The Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza must stop killings and torture of political rivals that have left several dozen people dead since the start of the year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.
“Hamas should end its attacks on political opponents and suspected collaborators in Gaza, which have killed at least 32 Palestinians and maimed several dozen more during and since the recent Israeli military offensive,” the New York-based group said in a report.
The killings outlined in the 26-page report began after Israel launched its massive offensive on the coastal strip in December, setting off “arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maimings by shooting and extrajudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces.”
During the 22-day war, 18 men were summarily executed, most suspected of collaborating with Israel, and in the three months since there have been “14 more killings, at least four of them of people in detention,” HRW said.
“During Israel’s attack on Gaza, Hamas moved violently against its political opponents and those deemed collaborators with Israeli forces,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division.
Most of the 18 men killed during the war had escaped from Gaza’s main prison after Israeli aircraft bombed the building, and they were subsequently tracked down and shot.
SHOT IN THE LEGS
During the Israeli onslaught, Hamas security forces also physically attacked known members of the rival secular Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose supporters it ousted from Gaza in deadly infighting in June 2007.
“The widespread practice of maiming people by shooting them in the legs is of particular concern,” the report said.
It said 49 people had been shot in the legs and 73 Gazan men had their legs and arms broken between the start of the war and the end of January.
“Physical abuse, including torture, maimings, and summary executions, is strictly forbidden under all circumstances,” it said.
“Under international law, detentions cannot be arbitrary or target a group or category of persons for political as opposed to genuine security grounds,” it said.
Even after the war ended on Jan. 18 with unilateral ceasefires by Israel and Hamas, “the unlawful arrests, torture and killings in detention continued... mocking Hamas’s claims to uphold the law,” the report said.
Although the number of incidents has decreased this month, “Hamas authorities are still failing to address seriously the crimes by security forces during and after the Israeli attacks.”
Hamas has set up a committee to look into the deaths in detention.
“Four investigations into 32 deaths are not enough,” Stork said.
The report also said that in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas, Fatah loyalists have increased “repressive measures” against Hamas members and supporters, with 31 people telling rights groups they had been tortured by security forces.