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Palestinian rights orgs slam Hamas, radical group

Aug. 16, 2009 7:53 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 18, 2009 9:46 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Prominent Palestinian human rights organizations were up in arms Sunday following bloody clashes between forces loyal to Hamas and a radical armed group, which ultimately left at least 24 Palestinians dead by Saturday.

Of particular concern to two groups, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Addameer Human Rights Association, was that Hamas opted to make use of its militant wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, to quell the mini-uprising.

In a statement, the PCHR reiterated its "astonishment" by the involvement of the Al-Qassam Brigades rather than de facto security forces to stop Jund Ansar Allah, a radical armed group that took over a mosque in Rafah and had, admittedly, opened fire first.

Emphasizing that "the brigades cannot be a law enforcement body," the rights organization said the Hamas wing's "very involvement in the incidents is an encroachment into the powers of law enforcement bodies." PCHR stressed that "there must be clear and strict instructions regulating the use of force by law enforcement officials, even when facing serious situations and against outlawed militants, as it was the case in Rafah."

In a separate statement, Addameer called on the de facto government to investigate the use of "excessive deadly force," and urged Hamas to first consider "the implications of security operations against suspected operatives" before resorting to action. As did the PCHR, the group called into question the use of Al-Qassam members, expressing surprise "at the continuous intervention of members of the Al-Qassam Brigades in such events, as they are not part of law enforcement."

"It is not acceptable that they be assigned to law-enforcement tasks," Addameer added. "Human rights organizations have repeatedly called for the non-interference of these powers in security services, but have never received a response [from Hamas]."

In terms of excessive force, Addameer added that the Hamas forces' behavior amounted to "a departure from rules governing the use of armed force, as the maintenance of law and order cannot be at any cost." Specifically citing evidence that non-combatants had been killed in the incident, the group said Hamas should take into account the serious risks for civilians, particularly in a place as overcrowded as Gaza.

In the same regard, the PCHR urged Hamas and the de facto government "to ensure maximum protection for civilians, especially in densely-populated areas."

The PCHR also took a hard line against the group thought to have instigated the incident, Jund Ansar Allah, an organization ideologically linked to Al-Qaeda that had declared Gaza an "Islamic emirate" directly before the gun battle.

The rights group insisted that "the declaration... by an outlawed armed group" was a flagrant provocation, and stressed "the oneness of authority and that the claim of this armed group constitutes a form of security chaos and an assault against the rule of law." It also slammed the organization for "resorting to violence, including using weapons" to advance an extremist religious agenda, and condemned its efforts to "impose its thoughts and values coercively on the society."

Nevertheless, both rights organizations hesitantly applauded the de facto government for taking a stand against extremism, with the PCHR declaring "full support for the governmental efforts to collect illegal weapons and to combat aspects of security chaos and assaults against the rule of law." But it urged Hamas forces to enforce stability "in the framework of legal limits and respect for human rights and basic freedom, which are constitutionally ensured" by the Palestinian Basic Law.

Regarding Jund Ansar Allah's apparent use of civilian areas to base itself, including inside a mosque, Addameer said that "it was unacceptable that residential areas had become storage depots for weapons of any kind." It said if an armed group chooses to resort to violence, it should base itself outside of civilian areas, "which is the minimum that can be expected [in areas where] innocent victims have no relationship to the events."

Addameer was less forgiving, however, of Hamas' official justification for its operation, which was that it was aimed at preventing the return of chaos to Gaza. Hamas' Interior Ministry had earlier accused the group of "having deviant ideologies, of expiating the population of Gaza and of carrying out several attacks against wedding parties and cafés," including two high-profile bombings 18 months apart.

"Why wasn't necessary legal action taken at the time, especially since all government agencies - including the Interior Ministry - cited the bombings... more than a year and a half ago? Or the explosion at the Dahlan family [wedding] in Khan Younis, just a month and a half ago?" the organization said.

While noting "awareness of the magnitude of security challenges in the Gaza Strip," Addameer expressed concerns over the apparently ever-growing "disdain for the application of the rule of law," and said it feared the event could easily be repeated.

Finally the PCHR noted that forces loyal to Hamas had, upon declaring their operation complete, arrested at least 100 persons suspected of membership in the armed group, "including some of the wounded."

Police then closed the area, prevented observers from approaching the main hospital in town, and denied access to journalists, PCHR said.
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