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From the field

4 August '08: Violent confrontations between Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank

13 months after Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, violent confrontations between Palestinian groups there and in the West Bank have broken out once again. The recent escalation in violence began with a bomb blast in a coffee shop in Gaza City on 25 July 2008, in which five members of Hamas and a four-year-old girl were killed. According to reports, eight members of Fatah, two Hamas policemen, and another person were killed, and more than 100 persons were injured, some of them persons who did not take part in the fighting.  17 minors were among the wounded.

Human rights organizations reported that, since the blast in the coffee shop, Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip and Fatah security forces in the West Bank have committed grave human rights violations. The violations include mass detention of members and supporters of the opposing group, apparently arbitrarily and based on political affiliation. It has been reported that the detentions were carried out violently, and that interrogators tortured and abused detainees. According to reports, Fatah and Hamas also attempted to infringe the right to freedom of information and freedom of speech by arresting journalists and prohibiting political gatherings.

International law requires both the Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, even though they are not parties to international conventions, to respect the human rights of local residents. They must, for example, protect the bodily integrity and dignity of detainees. Under no circumstance may they torture detainees. The security forces or militia members who ordered these acts, or carried them out, must be held accountable for their deeds.

Following these events, on 2 August, 188 persons from Gaza, among them minors and 22 wounded, fled to Israel. The army allowed them entry, but returned 32 of them to the Gaza Strip the next day. The media reported that the returnees were arrested by Hamas. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the army to stop sending them back to Gaza, given the danger they face there. In its petition, ACRI wrote: “Returning those who seek refuge, and placing their lives, safety, and liberty in danger, are among the gravest and most blatant human rights violations, contradicting Israeli law, international law, and morality.” After the petition was filed, the defense establishment decided to cease returning the refuge seekers to Gaza, and to transfer to the West Bank the 150 or so who had not been returned to Gaza.