According to PCHR’s documentation and observations, the latest armed conflict between the two movements has been accompanied by grave breaches of the provisions of international law related to internal armed conflicts, especially the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. According to this article, each party to an armed conflict not of an international character is bound, as a minimum, to treat persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, humanely. It also prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; and the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.” It further calls for treating the wounded and patients humanely.
In violations of these international standards, the bloody fighting was accompanied by many cases of willful killings and extra-judicial executions, and firing at combatants after capturing them. According to eyewitnesses, a number of the wounded were killed inside hospitals, and mutual kidnappings and torture of persons affiliated, or suspected to be, to a party of the conflict, were reported. Unarmed civilians were also the victim of fighting between the two parties, although they were often committed to their homes. Additionally, the status of civilian places, including houses and tower apartment buildings, which were used in the fighting between the two parties, were not respected. As a consequence, the suffering of civilians doubled, especially as they were forcibly placed in combat areas. Many casualties were reported among civilians, including women and children.
Additionally, the access of medical crews and fire fighters to combat areas to evacuate the wounded and extinguish fire was severely restricted (see PCHR’s press releases during and the after the fighting).
As Hamas has taken over security headquarters and sites and has seized complete control over the Gaza Strip, Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas issued 3 decrees on Thursday evening, 14 June, dismissing Prime Minister Ismail Haniya; declaring a state of emergency in all Palestinian National Authority (PNA) controlled areas; and forming a government to enforce the state of emergency. On 17 June, President Abbas issued another two decrees, one suspending the enforcement of articles 65, 66 and 67 of the Basic Law (the temporary constitution of the PNA), and the other one outlawing the Executive Force (formed by the Ministry of Interior in 2006) and Hamas’ militias “because of their insurrection against the Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions…”
In response, Israel has closed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, halting all commercial transactions of the strip. Subsequently, Palestinian civilians have rushed to shops, bakeries and fuel stations to buy their basic needs, in the wake of expectations of a possible humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Rafah International Crossing Point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which is the sole outlet for the Gaza Strip to the outside world that has been partially operated for nearly one year due to Israeli measures, has been also closed.
Parallel to the incidents in Gaza, supporters of Fatah movement in the West Bank have carried out a series of retaliatory attacks against members, supporters and institutions of Hamas. Such attacks have targeted health and cultural associations, charities, press offices, television and radio stations, sports clubs and some local councils, which have been run by Hamas following local elections. According to PCHR’s documentation, at least 50 public and private institutions have been attacked; 3 persons, including a child, have been killed; and at least 60 persons have been kidnapped since Wednesday, 13 June 2007.
In light of these accelerating developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), especially in the Gaza Strip, PCHR stresses the following:
1) PCHR condemns using military means to show down the conflict between Hamas and Fatah movements, particularly the decision to show down the conflict militarily and the takeover of Palestinian security headquarters and sites in the Gaza Strip by the Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades. Although PCHR is aware of the legitimacy of the government and its right to fully have its constitutional powers, and conscious of the security problems that preceded and the urgent need to reform the security establishment, there is no justification for the employment of Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades in the military showdown and takeover of the security establishment as this does not serve in any means the calls for reforming the security establishment.
2) Steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response violate the Basic Law and undermines it in a manner that is not less dangerous than what is happening in Gaza, especially as:
A. The President has the right to declare a state of emergency and to dissolve the government in accordance with Chapter 7 of the Basic Law, but according to the Law, the dissolved government shall serve as an acting government until the formation of a new government that must be approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
B. The Basic Law does not give the President any authority, even during a state of emergency, to suspend the enforcement of any provision of this Law concerning the PLC’s authority to grant confidence to the government, and he does not have the authority to dissolve or interrupt the work of the PLC during the period of emergency (article 113). This Law is superior to all laws, from which all powers, including those of the President and Prime Minister, are derived, and it must not be undermined or suspended in all circumstances.
3) Steps taken by the President are likely to complicate the crisis rather than solving it. They will even lead to further isolation of the Gaza Strip and take its 1.5-million population to the unknown, subjecting them to international sanctions. There are also concerns of a de facto political situation, in which the Gaza Strip may be cut from the rest of the OPT.
4) The current crisis in the PNA is a political rather than a constitutional or legal one. So, there is no alternative to dialogue based on real partnership, respect for the results of the legislative elections that were held in January 2006, and putting the interests of the Palestinian people above all narrow factional interests of the conflicting parties.
5) In the context of this aspired dialogue, it is important to stress the need to reconstruct the Palestinian security establishment on professional and national foundations, to ensure its independence and not to push it into any hideous factional conflicts to be able to carry out its constitutional duties to defend the homeland, serve the people, protect the society, and ensure security and public order.
6) The only party that benefits from the continuation of the current crisis is Israel and its occupation forces, which continue to create new facts on the ground, especially in the West Bank, through the construction of the Annexation Wall and settlements to undermine any possibility of establishing a viable, independent Palestinian state within the OPT.
7) The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which has been deteriorating due to the Israeli siege and the suspension of international aid to the PNA, will further deteriorate with the closure of all border crossings and the halting of all economic transactions.
8) The current Palestinian crisis is a new Nakba (in reference to the dispersion of the Palestinian people in 1948) that would grow if not immediately stopped, in light of expectations of more economic and social strangleholds and concerns of massive immigration from the Gaza Strip. So, all Palestinian political factions and civil society groups must bear the historical responsibility to end this crisis and prevent this new Nakba, which have been made by us on the 59th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.
9) The international community and Arab States are invited to take immediate steps to prevent the catastrophe through pressurizing for holding a political dialogue between Hamas and Fatah movement, as well as all other political factions, to end this crisis which threatens the PNA and the whole Palestinian people.