|Gaza - last summer|
JERUSALEM — The militant group Hamas used last summer’s war with Israel in the Gaza Strip to carry out extrajudicial killings of at least 23 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel and to torture dozens of others, including political rivals, Amnesty International charged in a report issued early Wednesday.
In a reminder of the region’s churning tensions, the Israeli military launched predawn airstrikes on Gaza on Wednesday in response to a rocket fired from the coastal territory the night before.
The rocket landed near Gan Yavne, an Israeli town outside the port city of Ashdod, causing no injuries but puncturing the fragile calm that has mostly prevailed since the 50-day war ended last August.
Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said in a statement that the rocket had been fired by Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, the Islamic organization that controls the crowded coastal territory and has generally tried to enforce an informal cease-fire with Israel. But Mr. Yaalon said that Israel viewed Hamas as responsible. “It is in Hamas’s interest to act to rein in any attempt to fire at Israel,” he said. “Otherwise, we will be forced to act with greater force.”
Gaza residents awoke to the familiar sound of heavy bombardments for the first time in months. Palestinian news organizations reported that airstrikes hit mostly in the southern towns of Rafah and Khan Younis, and that training sites for the military wing of Hamas as well as Islamic Jihad were among the targets.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israeli military said in a statement, “The reality that Hamas’s territory is used as a staging ground to attack Israel is unacceptable and intolerable and will bear consequences.”
As the exchange threatened to reignite cross-border conflict, the Amnesty report focused on what happened within Gaza. It said that many of those executed in July and August were on trial at the time, having been charged with collaboration, or were awaiting the outcome of appeals against death sentences from a military court in Gaza on the same charges. Two had been convicted and were serving prison terms when they were killed.
“In the chaos of the conflict, the de facto Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuses, including against people in its custody,” Philip Luther, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Program of Amnesty International, said in a statement. “These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas, which has not accepted responsibility for the killings, responded to the report by blaming Israel for creating a “situation of chaos” during the war. Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for Hamas, said that Israel had attacked the Gaza security services, preventing them from managing Palestinian internal affairs properly.
“The Amnesty report about Hamas needs to be more precise,” Mr. Masri said in a telephone interview. “Hamas did not claim responsibility for the killing of collaborators during the war,” he said. “There was a press release issued by a group of Palestinian resistance factions. Hamas was not part of them.”
In reports published in recent months, Amnesty International accused Israel and the armed wing of Hamas of carrying out war crimes last summer. The human rights organization said that Israel had shown “callous indifference” by carrying out airstrikes on homes that killed many civilians.
Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas’s military wing, fired thousands of rockets and mortars indiscriminately toward civilian areas in Israel, according to Amnesty International, and also endangered Palestinian civilians by reportedly launching rockets from within civilian facilities, including schools and a hospital in Gaza.
We've known this for a long time, but to have it documented by Amnesty and publicized by the news media, has been a long time coming and a genuine surprise.
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, were killed during the conflict, according to the United Nations, and more than 70 Israelis died, most of them soldiers.
On Aug. 22, one day after Israel displayed its intelligence capabilities by killing three top Hamas commanders in Gaza, up to 18 Palestinians were summarily executed in public in what was seen as a warning to the people of the Gaza Strip.
Masked Palestinian gunmen in black T-shirts and pants paraded seven of the suspected collaborators, handcuffed and hooded, to their deaths outside a downtown mosque as they knelt in hoods in front of a crowd of men, women, and children, the report says.
After weeks in which the militants had fought from the shadows, mostly keeping out of sight, the killings were meant to be photographed and publicized. Amnesty International said the killings were part of an operation in Gaza called Strangling Necks, aimed at instilling fear and settling scores.
One of those killed was Atta Najjar, a former police officer under the Palestinian Authority, which was overthrown by Hamas in Gaza in 2007. Amnesty said that Mr. Najjar, who had a mental disability, was arrested in 2009 and convicted of collaborating with Israel, and had been serving a 15-year prison term imposed by a military court when he was dragged out and killed.
In addition, "perceived political opponents" of Hamas were abducted, tortured or assaulted - "particularly members of the rival Fatah party and former members of the Palestinian Authority security forces in Gaza".
"These abuses too were committed with impunity," the report says. "Committed with 'impunity' or with 'approval'"?
BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connelly says Hamas exercises undisputed authority within Gaza, and Amnesty's powerful report depicts an organisation responding to the relentless pressure of Israeli military operations with a brutal campaign against its own enemies within.
Amnesty called on the Palestinian authorities to "impartially and independently" investigate the allegations, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Like that's going to happen!
Majd Al Waheidi contributed reporting from Gaza. - Majd - get out of Gaza now!