Palestinian human rights group condemns attacks on internationals

Two French women appear on television after militants of the Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, kidnapped them in Gaza City March 14, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights strongly condemns the series of attacks on international institutions and citizens in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), especially in the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, 14 March 2006. PCHR calls upon the Palestinian National Authority to take legal action against the perpetrators of these crimes, which reflect the state of security chaos, undermine the rule of law, and damage the Palestinian people’s interests and their just struggle for liberation and independence.

According to investigations conducted by PCHR, most of these attacks took place in the Gaza Strip. They included raids on, destruction and arsons of diplomatic representative offices, relief agencies and cultural centers, and kidnappings of internationals, including journalists and development and humanitarian staff. Armed groups were seen in the streets of the Gaza Strip searching for internationals at their work places and houses. These civilian internationals who provide humanitarian services to the Palestinian people were terrified. By Tuesday evening, 14 March 2006, international institutions had evacuated their international staff members from the Gaza Strip, including those of diplomatic representative offices, UN agencies, the ICRC and other relief, development and media agencies. The Gaza Strip has become almost vacant of internationals.

These attacks followed a raid by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on Jericho Prison in the West Bank to arrest Ahmed Sa’adat, Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and number of other prisoners, who had been detained under US-British monitoring in accordance with an agreement brokered by the United States and the United Kingdom with Israel and the PNA in 2002. IOF besieged the prison, shortly after the US-British force monitoring the detention of Sa’adat and his colleagues had withdrawn from the prison. Most of these attacks on international institutions and citizens were perpetrated by members and supporters of the PFLP, but other attacks were launched by other armed groups.

The first of these attacks took place at approximately 11:40 on Monday, 14 March 2006, when a number of militants attempted to an American citizen, James O’Connor, near the Palestinian customs office at Salah al-Din Street, when he was traveling in his car from Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing in the northern Gaza Strip towards Gaza City. Members of the Palestinian National Security Forces who were present in the area intervened and foiled the attempt. They transported O’Connor to Beit Hanoun crossing and he left the Gaza Strip.

At approximately 12:00, a number of militants intercepted a car, in which 4 staff members of Medecins du Monde were traveling on Salah al-Din Street near the entrance to the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun on their way to Beit Hanoun crossing. The militants transported them to an unknown destination. There were reports that the militants took the hostages first into Beit Hanoun and then moved them to another place outside the town. According to a staff member of Medecins du Monde, the hostages are: Diana Tiranni, 35, a French national; Anne Berkaiz, 25, a French national; Bassam Zaqqout, 33, Palestinian; and Khaled al-Hamami, 25, Palestinian.

At approximately 20:30, the four hostages were released. They were transported to the French Cultural Center in Gaza City.

Also at approximately 12:00, dozens protesters raided the office of the British Council on the fourth floor of a building in Ramallah and damaged its contents. According to eyewitnesses, dozens of protesters broke into the office of the British Council after they had broken its door. They destroyed its contents, including books, computers, compact discs and documents. They also set fire to it and threw some of its contents out of windows. The protesters also attacked the British HSBC Bank in the town and destroyed its façade and automatic teller machine.

At the same time, a number of protesters, including militants, attacked the office of Amideast in al-Remal neighborhood in Gaza City. They destroyed its windows and damaged its contents. They also raised the PFLP’s flag on the office.

Later, dozens of protestors, including a number of militants, gathered near the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City and then moved towards the office of the British Council. The militants fired at the office. According to investigations conducted by PCHR, Palestinian security forces attempted to disperse the protestors and prevent them from breaking into the office. They fired into the air to disperse the protestors. At the same time, some protesters moved towards offices of the European Union. They broke into the offices, broke windows and set fire to tires inside the offices. One of the attackers threw a hand grenade inside the offices, but it did not explode. The protesters then moved back to the office of the British Council and were able to break into it. They destroyed some of its contents and set fire to parts of it and a car parking in front of the office.

At approximately 14:00, a number of masked militants traveling in two civilian cars broke into the American International School in Gaza. They kidnapped four of its international staff members: Ms. Kaye Bennett, 65, from Australia; Mr. Oles Shcharytsya, 50, from Australia; Mr. Raymond McDade, from Canada; and Mr. Daniel De Shane, from Canada.

Members of the Palestinian Naval Police, positioned near the school, intervened and exchanged fire with the kidnappers. They were able to release the two Canadian teachers. The kidnappers were able to escape taking with them the two Australian teachers. Later, the Naval Police reinforced its presence near the school, and the Palestinian Presidential Guard evacuated all internationals. Protestors burnt a checkpoint of the Naval police near the school. At approximately 14:30, the two Australian hostages were released. They were transported to the Palestinian security compound (Saraya) in Gaza City.

At approximately 14:30, a number of militants broke into the office of Jumpstart in Abu Ghalyoun apartment building, opposite to the UN Beach Club in the west of Gaza City. They kidnapped the director, Adam Bedzamoski, a Polish national. He is still in custody.

At the same time, a number of militants attempted to broke into the office of the British Consulate Services on the second floor of al-Riad apartment building in the west of Gaza City. The office was closed and its staff members were not there. The attempt failed and the militants left the area.

At approximately 14:40, a number of militants traveling in a number of cars arrived at the office of the ICRC in Khan Yunis. Five militants broke into the office and kidnapped an ICRC delegate, Julien Grosclaude, a Swiss national. They transported him to an unknown destination. During this raid, the militants threatened the staff members not to intervene, and damaged the furniture of the office. At approximately 21:00, unknown persons phoned the ICRC local delegate in Khan Yunis and informed her that they would release the hostage near the desalination facility in the east of Khan Yunis. She moved to the area and a force of the Palestinian Military Intelligence and hundreds of people arrived at the area. The hostage was handed to the Military Intelligence and was transported then to Gaza City. Later, he left the Gaza Strip through Beit Hanoun crossing.

At approximately 15:00, a number of militants attempted to kidnap a French national near Jawwal mobile company in al-Jalaa’ Street in the center of Gaza City, but members of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service were able to evacuate him from the area, as the militants exchanged fire with the police. The exchange of fire left dead Jasser Sha’ban Rihan, 29, from Jabalaya. Nine persons, including two police officers, were also injured.

At approximately 15:15, at least 30 militants broke into al-Deera Hotel in the west of Gaza City and kidnapped 3 international journalists: Alfred Jacob Zadi, a French national; Caroline Loro, a French national; and Yang Yong, a South Korean national.

At approximately 16:50, a number of militants, having 3 internationals with them, arrived at headquarters of Palestine Red Crescent Society in Khan Yunis. They broke into the headquarters and held the hostages inside. The hostages are believed to be those who were kidnapped in Gaza City. At approximately 21:30, the militants left the headquarters taking the hostages with them to an unknown destination. At approximately 14:30 on Wednesday, 15 March 2005, the three hostages were released.

At approximately 16:30, at least 20 militants intercepted the car of Douglas Johnston, 52, an American university professor, in al-Zababda village near Jenin, shortly after he had left the Arab American University in Jenin, where he works. They forced him out of the car and took him to an unknown destination. Two hours later, he was released following contacts between the administration of the university and the kidnappers, with the mediation of members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah movement.

At approximately 17:00, a number of protestors attempted to break into the office of the German Television in Shawa and Husari apartment building at al-Wihda Street in Gaza City, but the attempt failed. Director of the office, Zakaria al-Talmas, told PCHR that a number of young men attempted to break into the office, but a staff member refused to open the door for them. They destroyed the external door of the office and left the area.

Following the chaos that spread over the OPT, Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border was closed as the international observers working at the crossing point withdrew. According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 15:30, the crossing point was closed as the EU observers left the crossing one hour and half before the end of the work day. The observers justified their withdrawal by concerns for their lives in light of the series of attacks on international institutions and citizens. On Wednesday morning, 15 March 2006, the observers resumed their work at the crossing point.

At approximately 17:00, PCHR learnt that UNRWA evacuated all its international staff members from the Gaza Strip following a series of kidnappings of internationals. All international staff members left the Gaza Strip through Beit Hanoun crossing.

PCHR learnt also that the ICRC took a similar decision to evacuate its international staff members from the Gaza Strip.

PCHR strongly condemns attacks on international institutions and citizens:

PCHR emphasizes that such crimes constitute a violation of fundamental human rights and an attack on the rule of law. They are part of the state of security chaos that have spread over the OPT in the past two years, as the PNA has failed to take effective measures to stop such crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. PCHR reminds that no legal measures have been taken with regard to series of kidnapping of internationals and attacks on international institutions.

PCHR believes that such crimes insult the Palestinian people, damage their just and legitimate struggle for liberation and independence and make them lose international support and sympathy in the face of war crimes perpetrated against them by IOF. PCHR condemns responding to war crimes perpetrated by IOF or protesting against certain parties through breaking the law and attacking international institutions and citizens.

PCHR reiterates its position that endangering the safety and security of civilians, including internationals, is a crime under international humanitarian law and the Palestinian law. PCHR believes such crimes may lead the evacuation of all international institutions and citizens from the Gaza Strip, which PCHR has always warned of its consequences on the Palestinian national cause.

PCHR calls upon the PNA to take legal action to stop the state of security chaos, particularly attacks on international institutions and citizens, in accordance with the law and international human rights standards. PCHR calls upon all Palestinian factions not only to express clear positions condemning such attacks, but also to make efforts to ensure their non-recurrence, as some of such attacks have been perpetrated by armed groups which are affiliated to these factions.

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