Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011

Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011
01. The Human Toll
  • .1

    Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces

    Demonstrator Mustafa a-Tamimi, seconds after a soldier in an armored jeep fired a tear-gas canister at him, killing him. Photo: Haim Schwarczenberg, 9 December 2011.

    From 1 January-31 December 2011, Israeli security forces killed 115 Palestinians, 18 of them minors (under age 18).

    One hundred and five Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Of these, 37 were not taking part in hostilities, 49 took part in hostilities, and 14 were the object of targeted killing. Regarding the remaining four persons, B'Tselem does not know if they were taking part in hostilities. In addition, one Palestinian policeman was killed while in a building belonging to the Hamas navy.

    Nineteen of the fatalities were shot near the Gaza perimeter fence; 11 of them took no part in any hostilities at the time. Israeli security forces also killed two Egyptian non-combatants along the Gaza perimeter fence.

    In targeted-killing operations, 18 Palestinian were killed; 14 were the object of the attack, four were bystanders.

    Eighty-two Palestinians were killed in aerial bombing attacks (this figure includes four of the Palestinians killed near the perimeter fence and all the Palestinians who were killed in the targeted-killing operations). Twenty of the 82 Palestinians were not taking part in hostilities.

    Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip

    Did not take part in hostilities1837
    Took part in hostilities4649
    Palestinian police01
    Object of targeted killing214

    There are no ongoing hostilities in the West Bank, so it is irrelevant to classify Palestinian fatalities according to whether or not they took part in hostilities. In 2011, Israeli security forces killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank: one in an exchange of gunfire with soldiers, two after they apparently tried to attack soldiers at a checkpoint, four during arrest operations, one while driving his car, one by soldiers’ gunfire after Palestinians threw stones at them, and one as a result of a soldier firing a tear-gas canister that hit him in the head from short range while he was throwing stones. In addition, a Palestinian minor, resident of East Jerusalem, was killed during clashes with security forces and with security guards of the Jewish settlement in Silwan. The identity of the shooter remains unknown.

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  • .2

    Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians

    ZAKA emergency response volunteers near the Fogel family’s house after Palestinians killed both parents and three children with guns and knives. Photo: Nir Elias, Reuters, 13 March 2011

    In 2011, Palestinians killed 11 Israeli civilians.

    Eight were killed in the West Bank: five members of the Fogel family – the parents and three of their children, aged 11, 4, and less than 1 – were stabbed and shot to death in their home in the Itamar settlement; one person was shot by a Palestinian policeman when he entered the area of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (which is under control of the Palestinian Authority) without prior coordination with the Israeli military; two people – a father and his infant son – were killed as a result of stones thrown at the car in which they were traveling on Route 60.

    Apart from the above, one Israeli civilian was shot to death in the Jenin refugee camp – the identity of the shooter and the background of the shooting remain unclear.
    Three people were killed inside Israel: two in rocket attacks from Gaza – one in Beersheva and the other in Ashkelon – and a 16-year-old boy was killed by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza at a bus inside the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

    In addition, six Israeli civilians and one Israeli soldier were killed in an attack near Eilat. The identity of the perpetrators has not been announced. In an exchange of gunfire in that incident, several persons, whose identity is not known to B'Tselem, were killed, among them apparently some of the perpetrators. The soldier was killed by friendly fire. Another solider was killed, also by friendly fire, in an exchange of gunfire with Palestinians along the border with Gaza.

    Two foreign citizens were killed: one was abducted and hanged by Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and the other was killed by an explosive charge laid by Palestinians in Jerusalem.

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  • .3

    Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians

    Murad al-Julani, wounded when he and Husam a-Rawidi were attacked by a youth on Hillel Street in Jerusalem on 11 February 2011. Husam a-Rawidi died of his wounds. Photo: 'Amer 'Aruri, B'Tselem

    Two Palestinians were killed by settler gunfire in the West Bank. In both cases, settlers went to the vicinity of Palestinian villages and apparently opened fire after Palestinians had thrown stones at them. A third Palestinian, a resident of East Jerusalem, was stabbed to death in the center of Jerusalem by an Israeli.

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  • .4

    April 2011: A welcome change

    Photo: David Pritchard

    In October 2003, B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice to require the MAG Corps to order an MPIU investigation in every case in which soldiers killed a Palestinian who was not taking part in hostilities. The organizations rejected the argument that the situation was one of “armed conflict.” In fact, much of the military activity in the Occupied Territories consisted of ordinary policing actions. Furthermore, international law also governs situations of armed conflict, prescribing the circumstances in which soldiers are allowed to open fire, which weapons may be used, and so forth. Not every civilian death in an armed conflict constitutes a violation of the law. However, only by opening a criminal investigation in such cases can the MAG Corps, which is responsible for ensuring that the military obeys the law, determine whether soldiers respected the laws of war.

    In April 2011, before the court ruled on the petition, the MAG Corps informed the High Court that, given the relative security calm in the West Bank, it decided to change the investigation policy, and that, “every case in which a civilian is killed from now on, as a result of an action of IDF forces in Judea and Samaria will result in an immediate MPIU investigation (such as deaths incidental to disturbances of the peace and disturbances at checkpoints.)” The previous policy will remain in place in cases in which a person is killed in the West Bank in an action “of a real combat nature (for example, events in which there is an exchange of gunfire, in which a civilian not involved in hostilities is struck).” The previous policy will remain in place regarding all civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip.

    The state emphasized in its arguments before the court that it continues to classify the situation in the West Bank as armed conflict; thus, “to the extent there is a change in the security situation in Judea and Samaria, there might be a return to the prior policy on investigations.”
    Following the announcement, the court denied the petition. In the opinion, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote that the point of departure in the matter of investigation of death cases is “the centrality and importance of protecting the right to life. . . In times of violent encounters as well, the rules requiring combatants to respect human life, and, to the extent possible, to respect the basic rights of civilians not taking part in hostilities, apply.” President Beinisch noted that, “the investigation affects protection of the right to life – the investigation enables, first and foremost, prosecution in appropriate cases and holding persons responsible who do not act in accordance with the law. Furthermore, a criminal investigation acts to safeguard the future-looking component of the obligation to protect life, in that it deters potential violators, prevents disregard for the right to life, and contributes to an atmosphere in which the rule of law is maintained.”

    The new policy is partial and conditional

    B'Tselem welcomes the change in policy. However, the new policy is based on the situation on the ground – the relative calm in the West Bank – and not on an acknowledgement of the obligation to investigate all civilian deaths, even during hostilities. As the state’s announcement indicates, if the situation changes, the MAG Corps will revert to its previous policy, which it applied during the second Intifada. Thus, the announcement does not ensure that Israel will meet its lawful obligations.

    Another problem is that the operational inquiry remains the basis from which to decide whether to order a criminal investigation into civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip, and into those cases where civilians were killed in combat activities in the West Bank. The operational inquiry is not the proper tool for determining whether to open a criminal investigation. First, it consists solely of the reports of soldiers involved in the incident – the very soldiers who would bear responsibility if it is found that one or more of them acted unlawfully. Their reliability is therefore compromised. Second, the inquiry is carried out by military officials who are not trained to conduct criminal investigations. Third, the inquiry is intended to learn lessons to improve operational activity, and not to examine criminal responsibility of the soldiers involved.

    As noted above, in the case of most West Bank fatalities, an MPIU investigation is supposed to be opened, regardless of the findings of the operational inquiry. However, the military also conducts operational inquiries in these cases, and they usually take place before MPIU investigators can reach the scene of the incident and question the soldiers and other witnesses. This chronology is liable to thwart the criminal investigation since, in the course of the operational inquiry, the soldiers involved describe the events together, which could enable them to coordinate their stories. Furthermore, the officers conducting the inquiry are allowed to carry out additional investigative actions – gathering evidence on the ground, checking weapons, and so forth – that might disrupt the MPIU investigation. In addition, the findings of the operational inquiry are published, which may also compromise the MPIU investigators.

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  • .5

    Investigations: exception rather than the rule

    Relatives of Yasser a-Tmeizi, who was killed on 13 January 2009 at Tarqumia checkpoint, with his photo. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 31 August 2010
    Over a decade ago, at the beginning of the second Intifada, the Military Advocate General’s Corps announced that, contrary to prior practice, it would not open an investigation by the Military Police Investigation Unit in every case in which soldiers killed a Palestinian civilian. Instead, the unit that was responsible for the death would conduct an operational inquiry, whose findings would be forwarded to the Military Advocate General. Based on these findings, and other information he obtained, the MAG would decide whether to order a criminal investigation.
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  • .6

    A decade without accountability

    Despite repeated requests by B'Tselem to receive information on cases it has submitted for investigation, the MAG Corps only transmits partial information on these cases.

    The partial information provided indicates a lack of accountability in cases of civilian deaths. From September 2000 to April 2011, when the MAG Corps changed its investigation policy, B'Tselem demanded a criminal investigation into 304 cases in which soldiers killed Palestinians. Investigations were opened in only 73 of these cases. Of these, as far as B'Tselem knows, indictments were filed in nine cases and 23 investigations were closed with no measures taken against soldiers; in 27 cases the MPIU completed the investigation but the case was still awaiting the decision of the Military Advocate General; and 14 cases are still under investigation. As for the remaining cases, B'Tselem was informed that, regarding 168 cases, no investigation would be opened and that in 44 cases, the MAG Corps had not yet decided whether to open an MPIU investigation. Regarding 14 cases, the MAG Corps told B'Tselem that the files could not be located, and five files had been transferred to other investigative bodies.

    Since the change in the investigations policy, MPIU investigations were ordered in all four cases in which Palestinians were killed in the West Bank. As far as B'Tselem knows, the MPIU is still investigating all of these cases.

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  • .7

    Wheels of justice grind to a halt: MAG Corps’ handling of killing of an unarmed Palestinian

    Firas Qasqas with his wife and one of their daughters. Photo: Courtesy of the family

    Firas Qasqas, 32, was killed on 2 February 2007 by soldiers' gunfire in a-Tira, a neighborhood in Ramallah. He was a resident of Batir, outside of Bethlehem, and had gone with his family to visit relatives in a-Tira.
    According to information obtained by B'Tselem, on that afternoon, Qasqas and two of his brothers-in-law went for a walk in an open area near the houses of the neighborhood. They saw a group of soldiers some 500 meters from them. Testimonies given to B'Tselem by the two brothers-in-law indicate that soldiers opened fire at the three men, who were unarmed and had done nothing to endanger the soldiers' lives. A bullet struck Qasqas in the back and exited from his stomach. The two took him to hospital in Ramallah, where he died from his wounds.

    B'Tselem wrote to MAG Corps several times, demanding an MPIU investigation into the circumstances of the killing. About a year passed before MAG Corps ordered the investigation. B'Tselem assisted the MPIU in taking testimonies of the two men who were with Qasqas when he was shot, and provided the MPIU with all the relevant material the organization had in the matter.

    As far as B'Tselem knows, the investigation ended in April 2009, and on 27 May 2009, the file was forwarded to the office of the military advocate for operational matters. Despite repeated inquiries, in which the organization demanded that the MAG Corps resolve the matter, no decision was made. After B'Tselem petitioned the High Court of Justice, in February 2011, MAG Corps transferred the matter to the State Attorney's Office, contending that the alleged offenders could no longer be prosecuted under the Military Justice Law, since they were reserve-duty soldiers and a long period of time had elapsed since the incident.

    In its statement to the High Court, the State Attorney's Office said it did not receive the file until 7 March 2011. The court granted the respondent a two-month extension to examine the material. The State Attorney's Office subsequently obtained, at its request, two further extensions to complete its examination.

    In August, the State Attorney's Office informed the court that, following examination of the investigative file, it decided to prosecute the officer who was responsible for the killing of Firas Qasqas, subject to a hearing which was to take place in November. The State Attorney's Office did not state the specific charges that would be included in the indictment.

    In January 2012, more than four years after the incident, the State Attorney's Office informed the court that, as a result of the hearing, it had decided not to file an indictment against the officer, and to close the file. In a letter attached to the state’s announcement, Attorney Rakefet (Segal) Muher, from the District Attorney’s Office, wrote that, although the shooting did not comport with the open-fire regulations, “a unique operational situation was involved, in which the soldiers, including the major [the officer], were in real danger.” The State Attorney's Office concluded that, “even in the event the order to shoot was mistaken, it did not amount to negligence” and that, “there is a significant lack of evidence to prove the causal connection between the shooting and the alleged death of Firas Qasqas.”

    B'Tselem intends to appeal the state’s decision.

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  • .8

    Mistaken identity? Soldiers shoot ‘Omar al-Qawasmeh to death in his bed

    ‘Omar al-Qawasmeh. Photo: Courtesy of the family

    ‘Omar al-Qawasmeh, 66, lived with his wife and son in the a-Sheikh neighborhood of Hebron. Living on the floor below them was Wa’il al-Bitar, an activist in Hamas who was wanted by the Israeli military. Al-Bitar was released from a Palestinian Authority prison on 6 January 2011.

    Around 3:45 P.M. the next day, soldiers broke into the house of the al-Qawasmeh family. They  had reached the bedroom door without anybody in the family knowing they were in the house. Two soldiers shot ‘Omar al-Qawasmeh to death. B'Tselem’s investigation indicated that he was shot while lying in bed. According to the medical report, he was shot in the head, chest, and limbs.

    His wife related to B'Tselem that, immediately after the shooting, one of the soldiers told her to show him her husband’s identity card and asked whether the apartment was Wa’il al-Bitar’s. Subsequently, the soldiers arrested al-Bitar outside his apartment, without any resistance from him. In the same operation, the soldiers arrested four other Hamas activists. They, too, had been released from the PA prison a day earlier.

    The IDF Spokesperson’s announcement, made the same day, stated that, “during the course of a night arrest of wanted persons, a Palestinian who was in the house of one of the terrorists was killed.” As noted above, al-Qawasmeh was killed inside his own apartment. In an announcement on 19 January, the IDF Spokesperson presented findings of the operational inquiry that was made, whereby “the initial gunfire at the civilian was done following a surprising and suspicious movement he made, causing the soldier to feel his life was in danger, especially given the information that the forces had as to the activity and dangerousness of Wa’il Bitar, a senior activist in Hamas, who was the object of the arrest and was in the building.” The announcement expressed regret for the death of ‘Omar al-Qawasmeh, but emphasized that the shooting was carried out in accordance with the open-fire regulations. Nevertheless, OC Central Command decided not to extend the service in the standing army of one of the two soldiers who shot al-Qawasmeh.

    The action taken by OC Central Command was insufficient and reflects an appalling disregard for human life. It is clear from the chronology of the events and the responses of the IDF Spokesperson that the soldiers entered al-Qawasmeh’s apartment by mistake. Even if the soldiers believed that the man in front of them was the person they wanted to arrest, and even if he made a suspicious movement, the soldiers were not justified in opening fire with the intent to kill him. There were many soldiers in the apartment, and they could have prevented the danger he posed – if indeed he posed any danger – in other ways.

    B'Tselem wrote to the military advocate for operational matters, demanding a criminal investigation into the death of al-Qawasmeh. In January 2012, a year after the incident, the MAG Corps informed B'Tselem that they had decided a year earlier, two weeks after the incident, not to open an MPIU investigation.

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  • .9

    Soldiers shoot to death two young men in the Qalandiya refugee camp

    Mu’atasem ‘Adwan. Photo: Courtesy of the family

    Around 1:30 A.M. on 1 August 2011, soldiers entered the Qalandiya refugee camp on what the the IDF Spokesperson described as a “routine operation to arrest wanted persons.” It was the first night of Ramadan, so many of the residents were awake and preparing for the pre-fast meal. In the operation, the soldiers arrested three residents of the camp, two of them minors. A group of young men threw stones at the soldiers, who responded with tear-gas and stun grenades.

    According to B'Tselem’s investigation, around 3:00 A.M., some of the soldiers began to leave the camp. A few Palestinians were standing by the front doors of their houses, about 50 meters from them. A group of young men threw stones at the soldiers. This time, the soldiers responded with live ammunition and a massive volley of tear gas. The shots struck three young men who were in the street:

    • Mu’atasem ‘Adwan, 22, who was standing at the door to his house, was hit in the head and chest and apparently died on the spot.
    • ‘Ali Khalifa, 25, was struck in the stomach and died at the hospital.
    • Maamun Ibrahim, 24, was injured slightly by shell fragments.

    An operational inquiry, in which the soldiers involved took part, was conducted immediately after the incident. In accordance with the new policy instituted in April 2011, an MPIU investigation was opened to investigate the circumstances of the deaths of ‘Adwan and Khalifa. Only in November did MPIU investigators take the testimony of Ibrahim. As far as B'Tselem knows, the investigation has not yet been completed.

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  • .10

    Hamas stores weapons in Gaza neighborhood; Israel bombs, killing and wounding civilians

    The witness Maqdad Za’lan at the house of the family that was damaged in a bombing in Gaza. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 9 December 2011

    A little after 2:00 A.M. on 9 December 2011, Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at a compound of Hamas’ military wing, the ‘Az-a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, northwest of Gaza City. Another missile, which was fired a minute or so later, caused a large explosion and fire. The intensity of the blast apparently caused secondary explosions of ammunition stored in the compound. According to information obtained by B'Tselem, rockets had been fired into Israel from this area shortly before the attack.

    The missiles and secondary explosions damaged nearby houses. One of the houses, located only a few meters from the compound, collapsed on its occupants. The father of the family, Bahajat a-Za’lan, 37, was severely injured in the blast and died a short time later. His ten-year old son Ramadan was critically injured and died later that day. Another son, Yusef, 8, was also seriously injured. Other houses near the compound were damaged, and one was totally destroyed.

    Maqdad a-Za’lan, 19, Bahajat a-Za’lan’s nephew, whose house is situated next to the house that collapsed, described the events to B'Tselem:

    . . . I heard my uncle Bahajat say: “Maqdad, go to the children.” I jumped over the fence separating our house from Uncle Bahajat’s house. . . [Under the debris,] Bahajat was hugging his little boy, Ahmad, and his wife, Sa’ada. Sa’ada cried out to me, “Save Ahmad.” I got Ahmad out from under the debris and went out of the house. . . I returned to Sa’ada to remove her from under the debris. While I was doing that, a third blast shook the whole area. The debris covered me and Sa’ada. I started looking for my cousins in the next room and found Ramadan, 10, and Yusef, 8, who were unconscious due to the smoke of the missiles and the destruction. I also found Rimah, 3, sitting cramped over in the corner of the room. Iman, 5, was sleeping and had not been injured, and I realized she was alive.

    I returned again to lift Sa’ada from under the debris, and then I saw that Uncle Bahajat was alive. He said to me, “You’re responsible for my children.” I picked up his upper body and laid it on my lap and then began to clear the ruins around him. But I didn’t succeed. I began to press on his chest to help him breathe, and then cleared the debris from around him and laid him there, until he died.

    The IDF Spokesperson announced that the air force had struck targets in the Gaza Strip. A few hours later, the IDF Spokesperson explained that, “secondary explosions resulted from the presence of weapons that had been stored near the terrorist-activity points that were attacked. The IDF regrets the injury to uninvolved persons, but emphasizes that the responsibility lies with the terrorist organization Hamas, which chooses to act from the heart of the civilian population and uses them as a human shield.”

    Two days after the attack – in the early hours of 11 December – the Israeli military bombed a structure in the Zeitun neighborhood in Gaza City, which apparently also was used to store ammunition. After the missile struck, a few secondary explosions occurred, causing severe damage to an adjacent residential building. The blast severely injured Sundus Badwan, 11, and lightly injured her father. The next day, the IDF Spokesperson issued footage showing the moment of the attack and the secondary explosions. The film shows the building that was attacked, alongside which was the house of the Badwan family. The announcement accompanying the film states that, “The IDF emphasizes that these materials prove how the terrorist organization Hamas chooses to operate from the heart of the civilian population in Gaza, and uses it as a human shield.”

    Storing ammunition and firing rockets from military compounds inside a civilian population center is unlawful and endangers the civilians living there. The illegality arises because the ammunition might explode and because of the fear that the other side will attack the warehouse, which is a legitimate military object. By storing such ammunition in the heart of a civilian population, Hamas breached the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, whereby civilians must be kept outside the cycle of hostilities.

    However, Hamas’s breach of international law by storing ammunition in a residential area did not grant Israel the automatic right to bomb it. The warehouse was indeed a legitimate military object, but Israel had the obligation to prevent, as far as possible, harm to civilians. Therefore, it was allowed to attack these targets only after it had taken all feasible means to minimize potential injury to civilians. This included warning people before the bombing so they could leave the area. The decision to carry out the attack specifically in the middle of the night, when people were likely to be in their homes, increased the likelihood that civilians would be harmed. The film presented by the IDF Spokesperson that documented the second attack clearly showed a civilian structure next to the target bombed by the air force. Therefore, military officials cannot claim that they did not know civilians were in the area.

    In a letter to the Military Advocate General’s Corps, B'Tselem demanded that an investigation be opened into the circumstances of the two incidents.

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  • .11

    Death penalty in the Gaza Strip

    An execution by the Palestinian Authority. Photo: Reuters, 13 January 2011

    In 2011, Palestinian Authority courts in the West Bank sentenced one person to death, and Hamas courts in the Gaza Strip sentenced eight persons to death (one of them an Israeli, who was tried and sentenced in absentia). Hamas executed three persons: Muhammad Ahmad Abu Qanis, 51, and his son Rami, 22, who were convicted, on 29 November 2004, in the Magistrate’s Court in Gaza for collaboration with Israel and for causing the death of Palestinians and were executed by hanging, and ‘Abd al-Karim Muhammad ‘Abd Sharir, 35, who was convicted on 29 October 2010 for collaboration with Israel and was executed by firing squad.

    Since the Palestinian Authority was established, in 1995, 71 persons have been sentenced to death in PA courts for the crimes of collaboration with Israel, treason, and murder. Since June 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, another 27 people have been sentenced to death for similar offenses.

    Under Palestinian law, execution of a death sentence requires the approval of the president of the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas has refused to approve executions, so none have been carried out by the Palestinian Authority since he took office, in January 2005. Prior to this date, the Palestinian Authority executed 13 persons who were sentenced to death. The Hamas government reinstituted capital punishment in 2010, claiming that Abbas’s presidency had ended, that the Hamas government no longer recognized him as president, and that his approval was not needed. From then until the end of 2011, eight executions were carried out in the Gaza Strip.

    Out of all cases in which death penalties were handed down in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two were reduced to a prison sentence, and in five cases, the person was released. Eight persons sentenced to death were killed inside prison, and three were murdered after they escaped from prison during Operation Cast Lead. Five persons given capital punishment escaped and were not caught, six were sentenced in absentia and are not in custody, and in two cases, B'Tselem does not know where the person is being held.

    PA and Hamas prisons currently hold 47 persons who have been sentenced to death and live in uncertainty as to whether they will be executed.

    B'Tselem strongly condemns capital punishment, which is immoral and breaches the right to life. Capital punishment must be stricken from the statute books, regardless of the details or nature of the crime. The Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government must eliminate capital punishment. Until then, the Hamas government must not execute any person sentenced to death.

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