One killed, 21 injured in Gaza clashes

Members of the Hamas Executive Force arrest a Palestinian Fatah supporter during a rally following Muslim prayers in Gaza City, 31 August 2007. A protest by Fatah supporters against Hamas rule turned violent Friday when Hamas forces began forcefully dispersing the crowd, firing in the air and beating demonstrators and reporters. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The Gaza Strip saw much tension during the past two days. One Palestinian was killed, 21 were injured and about 60 others arrested in the towns of Rafah and Gaza City. Mass Friday prayers on 31 August 2007 ended with clashes between the Executive Force (EF) and a group of the worshippers, who prayed outside mosques in response to a call from Fatah. In addition, a minor was killed on Saturday, 1 September 2007 as the EF dispersed a vigil that was organized in protest of the prolonged closure of the Rafah Crossing.

According to field investigations, thousands of Gazans participated in the vigil at Rafah Crossing in response to a call by Hamas on Saturday. The vigil was organized to protest the closure of the crossing since 10 June 2007. The EF used force to disperse the protesters when they approached the crossing’s gate. Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Fathi Qdeeh was killed from a bullet to his head. One man, 39-year-old Yousif al-Zamli, was wounded by bullet in his foot.

On Friday, clashes erupted in Gaza City following Friday’s mass prayers called by Fatah. The prayers took place outside mosques in al-Katiba Square west of al-Azhar University in Gaza City. After the prayers, the participants marched towards the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) among heavy presence of EF’s members in Gaza’s streets.

As the march approached the PLC, many protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at its building. The EF fired in the air and used sonic bombs to disperse the march. Separate clashes followed as demonstrators were returning to their homes; especially in al-Nasser Street. TV stations showed the EF, some of them in civilian dress, violently arresting and beating demonstrators and breaking into homes. Nine Palestinians and one French journalist were injured, and 60 others were arrested by the EF.

In the town of Rafah, worshippers also marched at the same time on Friday starting from the Shuhada’ Square in the town’s refugee camp. As they approached the al-Abrar Mosque, a group of young demonstrators chanted provocative slogans. As the march approached the house of the EF’s commander in the town, they threw stun bombs towards it. A grenade was thrown at the crowd injuring ten, of whom were seven children.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer received a statement by the EF stating that the civil prosecution office has decided to bail all the detained demonstrators. They were asked to pay NIS 1,000 (US $250) and to commit in writing not to conduct breaches for six months in order to take the money back.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer call for full respect for the right to peaceful assembly, which must be performed within the boundaries of the law. Peaceful demonstrations must not breach security and order in society or cause damage to private or public property.

Nevertheless, Al Mezan and Al Dameer believe that demonstrators’ violence does not justify the excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel. The Palestinian law and the United Nations standards place limitations and restrictions on the use of force by law enforcement personnel. The use of force must always observe the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer are therefore highly concerned by the use of excessive force by the EF in dispersing marches called for by both Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. The EF has shown unjustified brutality in both of the cases.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer denounce the aforementioned bailing decision by the civil prosecution office. This decision infringes upon of powers mandated to the judiciary, which is the sole body the law authorized to rule such penalties. Palestinian law clearly states that felonies and penalties can only be decided by the law. The decision also breached the legal guarantees and protections of individuals under custody to the presumption of innocence and to a fair trial in which they can effectively defend themselves. The decision represents both a verdict of indictment and a penalty by a policing body and without proper investigation or respecting the right of the defendants to defend themselves.

While Al Mezan and Al Dameer condemn the attacks on the PLC by the demonstrators, they strongly condemn the violent excessive use of force against them by the EF, many of whom were not in uniform. The two organizations call the EF to initiate a prompt investigation in these events, especially after the killing of a minor in Rafah, and to bring those officers who breached the law to justice. They also call the EF to issue clear and firm instructions to its members to refrain from using force in similar circumstances.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer also call for immediate cancelation of the bailing procedure. The EF must not resort to procedures that breach Palestinian law. They also call on the EF to release all the people who were detained during and after the demonstrations. The two organizations express their concern about the possibility that detainees were subjected to cruel treatment and/or torture.

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