The undersigned civil society organizations utterly condemn an attack on the YMCA headquarters in Gaza City in the early hours of the morning of 15 February 2008. Unidentified militants broke into the YMCA headquarters, planted explosive devices and subsequently completely destroyed the library. The undersigned organizations ask the dismissed government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into this crime, which is a continuation of a number of similar attacks targeting national, cultural and civil society organizations in the Gaza Strip. This crime also represents a continuation of security chaos across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
The YMCA is considered one of the outstanding national institutions in the OPT, and is also one of the most prominent civil society organizations offering social, cultural and sports facilities. It also runs a kindergarten and its facilities are utilized by a wide spectrum of Palestinians. In addition, the YMCA has for decades played an important role in the development of the national Palestinian civil society movement.
According to preliminary investigations, at approximately midnight on Friday, 14 February, a group of more than ten unidentified militants, some masked, broke into the YMCA, in al-Jalla Street in the center of Gaza City. The militants overpowered two security guards, Abdel Maarti Abu Khussah (52) and Reziq Abu Ajami (25), handcuffed both men at gunpoint, and confiscated their mobile phones and keys to the YMCA. The militants then broke into, and damaged, the YMCA administration office, before breaking into the library. Abdel Khussah reported that he and Rezic Ajami were then blindfolded, forced into a car, driven approximately three kilometers northeast of Gaza City, and then abandoned.
At approximately 1:45am, a large explosion was heard in the center of Gaza City. This was later identified as an explosion in the YMCA that completely destroyed the library. This was one of the explosive devices planted by the militants at the YMCA. A second unexploded device was discovered at the entrance to the YMCA auditorium, and later dismantled by the police.
The YMCA library contained 8,000 books, many of which had been donated by children, and has been a popular and extremely well-used cultural facility. It was later discovered that the militants had also stolen a computer and a television from the administration office. In addition, they stole the car in which the two security guards were abducted, and which belongs to the Gaza City Kanan Pedagogical Center.
The undersigned organizations reiterate their utter condemnation of this crime, which deliberately targeted a prominent and long-standing national institution that has massively contributed to national Palestinian culture.
Therefore, the undersigned organizations:
- Reiterate this was a cowardly attack on one of Gaza’s most important and well-respected civil institutions. At the same time, this indicates a serious continuity of security chaos in the OPT.
- Demand the dismissed government conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into this crime, bring the perpetrators to justice and publish the results of their investigation.
- Also reiterate that this crime highlights the prolonged failure of the relevant authorities to investigate previous crimes of this nature, or to make any serious efforts to prevent such crimes from reoccurring, which has de facto encouraged crimes of this nature.
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights
Gaza Community Mental Health Program
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees
Palestine Red Crescent Society, Gaza
Women’s Affairs Centre, Gaza
Culture and Free Thought Association
This press release was edited for clarity.