GAZA IN TURMOIL
The power struggle within the Palestinian Authority
Palestinian armed group taking over PA headquarters in Khan Yunis, Saturday, July 18. (Reuters).
Researched and compiled by
Gaza in Turmoil
The Power Struggle within the Palestinian Authority
The Gaza Strip has currently been experiencing one of the most difficult periods since the Israeli occupation of 1967.
A state close to anarchy, political splits, hard power struggle between the “old guard” of the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat and forces inside his Fatah movement have erupted during the last weeks in the Gaza Strip.
The “old guard” is currently seen as widely corrupt and responsible for the failure in: granting security to the Palestinian people; improving their lives economically and socially; establishing reliable institutions, free of corruption. In essence, all the instruments needed for setting up a viable, workable Palestinian State after the accomplishment of Israeli settlement evacuation from Gaza Strip (due by the end of 2005).
The belief in cronyism and nepotism within the Palestinian Authority has grown dramatically, particularly after the attempted re-organization of the security apparatus promoted by Yasser Arafat, reportedly urged by the Egyptian Government and others international mediators.
The chaos stems from the Palestinian Authority leaders’ long-held refusal to delegate proper power, instead dividing and ruling over an array of competing security bodies, weak Prime Ministers and loyalists appointed to key positions.
As a consequence, the extreme and deplorable reactions, such as abductions and shootings of people, which have been carried out by Palestinian military factions asking for reforms, have had the result of increasing the state of lawlessness faced by the Palestinian Authority, especially in Gaza.
1) In this regard the PHRMG considers any kind of trouble within and among Palestinian forces as detrimental to the accomplishment of the common goal of establishing a viable, independent Palestinian State.
2) Such behavior misleads the International Community about the genuine efforts undertaken by the Palestinian society for the implementation of the peace process.
3) Such actions can only strengthen the Israeli Government and US Administration’s convictions regarding the unreliability of any Palestinian interlocutor with whom to start serious negotiations to execute the peace process.
4) Finally, the PHRMG calls upon both the Palestinian National Authority and Palestinian factions inside the Fatah movement to assume their responsibilities in order to accomplish the necessary improvements for putting an end to the state of chaos which can only jeopardize the establishment of an independent, viable and effective Palestinian State.
Clashes within the Palestinian Authority
Kidnappings of Palestinians and foreigners
On Friday July 16, the Palestinian Authority declared a general state of emergency in Gaza after 4 French aid workers and 2 Palestinian officials had been kidnapped by Palestinian militant groups.
The abductions were apparently perpetrated with the aim of obtaining substantial reforms to put an end to the alleged corruption within the Palestinian Authority.
Early on the 16th, the Chief of Police, Major General Ghazi al-Jabali, was kidnapped by a number of gunmen at al-Borely refugee camp. During the abduction, 2 of Jabali’s bodyguards were wounded in a fire exchange involving more than 10 gunmen who attacked the police chief’s motorcade.
Jabali, who has been the Gaza Strip Chief of Police for the 10 years since limited self-rule was established by the Israeli occupying forces, has been targeted several times by Palestinian militants in the past.
Jabali was freed after the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yasser Arafat, agreed to put the police chief on trial for suspected corruption.
The responsibility for Jabali’s kidnapping was claimed by the Jenin Martyrs’ Brigades, who stated that it was a response to years of police failures to ensure security in Gaza.
Colonel Abu al-‘Ola, Commander of the Palestinian Liaison Force in Southern Gaza, was another victim of kidnapping on Friday. The abduction was perpetrated by an armed group linked with the Fatah movement, demanding the re-employment of a number of members of security services who had been sacked. Abu al-‘Ola was released in the early hours of Saturday morning, after intense negotiations with the abductors.
Finally, 4 French aid workers, including 2 women, were also abducted, while in a restaurant in the town of Khan Younis, on Friday, July 16. They were taken to the local Red Crescent building, where militants were firing from the windows to ward off police.
The Abu al-Rish Brigades, linked to the Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the abduction. In exchange for releasing the hostages, the kidnappers demanded the end of corruption within the Palestinian Authority, the implementation of political reforms, and reliable actions to house hundreds of Palestinian families whose homes had been demolished by Israeli military forces during previous military operations.
After few tense hours, through the decisive mediation of Arafat, UN representatives, and some French diplomatic personnel, the hostages were released on grounds of promises to consider the kidnappers’ demands.
Following the appalling kidnappings, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia expressed his intention to resign, in protest against the chaos and instability of the security situation erupting from the Gaza Strip. However, the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yasser Arafat, decided not to accept Qureia’s appeal for resignation.
Prime Minister Qureia described the security situation in Gaza as “a real disaster, a real catastrophe, and an unprecedented lawlessness”.
- The PHRMG vehemently condemns the kidnappings carried out against Palestinians and foreigners by armed groups. They cannot be justified by the demand for serious reforms of the security apparatus in Gaza.
- The PHRMG argues that such actions, inspired by unjustifiable violence, do not represent the right way to demand reforms and improvements within the Palestinian Authority. They only contribute to the deterioration of the Palestinian reputation in the International Community and foreign Governments.
- Furthermore, the PHRMG is seriously concerned that these illogical events reflect the state of chaos and lawlessness inside the Palestinian Authority, particularly in the Gaza Strip. For this reason, wide and substantial reforms are strongly demanded by the Palestinian Authority’s leadership.
- Eventually, the Palestinian authorities are called upon to offer their best efforts to strengthen the consensus within the Palestinian society over Palestinian institutions as much as possible.
Clashes and protests demanding reforms
On Sunday, July 18, thousands of Palestinians started marches throughout the Gaza Strip demanding reforms within the Public Security apparatus in Gaza.
The protesters hit the streets in protest to reform the security services decided by Yasser Arafat. Principally, they criticized the initial appointment of Arafat’s nephew Musa, to the office of the Public Security Service Chief in Gaza. As a result of this public pressure, Musa was removed from the position.
Saturday also saw widespread protests, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians gathered in front of the Legislative Council in Gaza City and shouted slogans denouncing the new appointments.
At least 12 people were seriously wounded when members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades exchanged fire with Palestinian Authority officers in the town of Rafah late on Sunday, as a consequence of Musa Arafat’s appointment. Only after a 2 hour siege was a cease-fire attained with the aid of local intermediaries.
Meanwhile, in the town of Khan Yunis, a Palestinian armed group ravaged the headquarters of the military intelligence. According to Palestinian sources, 15 armed men, allegedly linked to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, took over the headquarters in which forces loyal to the newly appointed Musa Arafat were stationed. The attackers took possession of the weapons they found and looted the building, setting fire to it before leaving.
As a direct consequence of the tense situation established in Gaza, the United Nations decided to move 20 people working in Gaza to the UN headquarters in Jerusalem. The transfer was ordered by Peter Hansen, United Nation Relief and Work Agencies (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees’ Commissioner General in Gaza, who is also responsible for the security of all the UN personnel operating in the Gaza Strip.
- The PHRMG is convinced that these kinds of events determine nothing but the deterioration of the whole state of security throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as the increase in lawlessness within the Palestine society and its authorities.
- Furthermore the PHRMG strongly invites the Palestinian National Authority to assume all necessary actions towards improving the safety of all people and implementing a reliable process directed at strengthening the security services operating in Gaza.
- Finally the PHRMG calls on Mr. Arafat to use his authority to issue urgent orders to end all the dangerous activities carried out in the Gaza Strip by segments of the armed security forces, in order to stop the intimidation of civilians, creation of chaos and harm done to the supreme interests of the Palestinian people.
Ongoing attacks in Gaza
Israeli military forces have continued to perpetrate incursions, home demolitions and assassinations of Palestinian people, most of them civilians, throughout the Gaza Strip. They have committed serious and grave violations according to the prescriptions of International Law.
The Israeli military operations carried out during the last weeks within the Gaza Strip have seriously harmed the Palestinian people’s freedom of movement through the imposition of strong curfews and sieges, especially in Rafah and Beit Hanoun.
Moreover, killings of young innocent people have been reported during such violent attacks.
According to the statistics gathered by the PHRMG, 54 Palestinians, among them at least 5 children, have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of July in the Gaza Strip alone.
- The PHRMG continues to be gravely concerned about the atrocious consequences for the Palestinian people resulting from the ongoing Israeli military operations.
- The PHRMG considers such military operations to be a clear violation of humanitarian law, in particular of the Fourth Geneva Convention signed in 1949.
- Furthermore, from the PHRMG’s point of view, such violations are completely unjustifiable and disproportionate considering the stated Israeli aims of preventing militant attacks and destroying weapon-smuggling tunnels.
The PHRMG continues to be concerned about the high number of Palestinians fatalities since July, particularly after the Palestinian Authority’s crisis broke out in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli troops have been perpetrating serious violations of humanitarian law through repeated incursions, attacks and violence towards Palestinian towns and people, mostly civilians. Their actions are considered grossly disproportionate in relation to their aim of catching Palestinian militants and destroying smuggling tunnels.
The ongoing indiscriminate assassinations, curfews, sieges, and home demolitions committed by Israeli forces in the last weeks in Gaza do not represent a productive way to approach and improve the peace process. Violence begets violence.
Summary of Palestinian fatalities and destruction caused by Israeli Forces:
On Monday, July 26, Sara Mahmoud Zorob, 12 years old, was shot in the chest in an outlying neighborhood of the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, while she was playing with other children in the courtyard of her house. Sara died on the way to the hospital. She was killed by shots fired from an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) watchtower. The soldiers had allegedly opened fire due to fears that Palestinian militants were attempting an infiltration to the Israeli settlement of Netzer Hazani.
On July 27, IDF soldiers killed 2 Palestinians in the Saja’iya neighbourhood in Gaza city. The assassination followed an exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants allegedly belonging to a Qassam rocket-launching cell.
On Wednesday, July 29, 2 Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli strike on a car in the southern part of Gaza Strip. Missiles were fired at their car while they were traveling near Rafah refugee camp. The Israeli army representatives confirmed that they carried out the attack. The 2 murdered Palestinians were identified as Amr Abu Suta, the commander of the Abu Reish Brigade, a small militant offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, and his assistant, Zaki Abu Rakha.
Last Tuesday, August 3, a missile fired by an Israeli Apache helicopter gunship killed 3 Palestinian civilians and injured many others, in Rafah refugee camp. The explosion came after Israeli tanks were positioned along the area, backed by several Israeli Apache helicopters in the sky. At least 6 buildings were completely destroyed and 3 located along the border with Egypt were partially damaged. The Israeli incursion in Rafah follows the large scale of raids carried out in May when, during the so called “Rainbow Operation”, at least 62 Palestinians were killed and more than 220 houses were completed demolished, leaving about 4,000 individuals homeless.
On Wednesday, August 4, Israeli troops killed 3 young Palestinian boys in Beit Lahiya, near Gaza city.
On Wednesday, August 11, Israel Defense Forces troops moved into the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. An Israeli helicopter fired a missile during clashes with Palestinian gunmen. At least 12 people, all of them civilians, were reportedly wounded in the missile strike, 3 critically. Israeli military spokesmen confirmed that an operation against the terrorist infrastructure was in progress.
On Thursday, August 12, Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the refugee camp of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, beginning demolishing houses and public buildings. Several families have been forced to flee their houses. At least 6 buildings have been reportedly demolished during the incursion undertook by Israeli troops. According to military source, Israeli soldiers rolled into the camp with the aim of carrying out a centered operation against terror infrastructures in the area.
Assassination of collaborators
On Monday, August 2, 3 Palestinians, detained in the Gaza City prison for collaborating with Israeli authorities, were assassinated. Some grenades were hurled into their cell by an unknown person, allegedly a prison guard, lethally hitting 1 and wounding at least 5 other detainees. The prisoners had been sentenced to death by the Palestinian State Security Court in 2002.
Later, a number of masked gunmen, belonging to ‘Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigade’, the military wing of the Hamas movement, raided Gaza City’s main hospital, al-Shifa, where the injured detainees were recovering after the explosion, and killed 2 of them, Mahmud al-Sharif and Walid Hamdiya, in their beds.
- The PHRMG is convinced that the collaboration with Israeli authorities by Palestinians represents an extraordinary mechanism for facilitating the Israeli perpetration of crimes against Palestinian people.
- However, the PHRMG vehemently condemns the assassination of the 3 collaborators p-perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza city Central Prison. Violence and killing cannot be justified. This applies to both parties involved in the conflict.
- In this regard the PHRMG calls upon the Palestinian Authority to intervene in assuming its responsibility for preventing the repetition of such deplorable actions.
Closure of the Rafah crossing
On August 6 Israeli authorities partially reopened the crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, allowing thousands of Palestinians to return home. According to the information gathered by PHRMG, this terminal had been closed since July 12.
The Israeli authorities allegedly decided to seal the crossing for fear of Palestinian militant attacks, without any regard for the consequent restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people’s freedom of movement.
Nearly 2,500 people were stranded in Egypt waiting to be granted access to their homes. Many of them are believed to have been returning after undergoing medical treatment in Cairo. The situation at the border was appalling, with people waiting in squalid conditions, without even the most basic supplies.
People had been housing in some tents provided with only four male and four female toilets for the entire group, the majority of which are elderly women and children.
Furthermore, an increasing lack of food and medicine had been reported and, according to Rafah police, three pregnant women had miscarriages on Wednesday, August 4, while they were waiting at the border crossing.
Thousands of Palestinians were housed in tents during the three week closure of Rafah crossing (Reuters).
Before the complete reopening of the crossing on the 9th of August, Israeli authorities had barely offered to let the people pass through Nitzana crossing, but only at a rate of 250 a day.
However the Palestinian Authority rejected the offer as absolutely insufficient.
On August 4, the Egyptian Government, extremely concerned about the Palestinians’ condition, asked the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help the thousands of people waiting to cross the border since last month.
Egyptian representatives also urged Israel to immediately reopen the Rafah border crossing, arguing that its closure was provoking a grave humanitarian crisis.
Prior to the recent Rafah crossing’s total closure, since the 18th of April 2004, the Israeli authorities have established unacceptable restrictions on traveling through the Rafah crossing. Order was given to prevent all Palestinians whose age ranges between 16 and 35 years from crossing.
- The PHRMG calls upon the International Community as well as the local and international human rights organizations to get involved with the issue with the aim of putting pressure on the Israeli authorities for keeping open Rafah Terminal without any sort of restriction.
- The PHRMG is convinced that the Israeli authorities’ behavior, in seriously depriving Palestinian people of their freedom of movement, represents a grave violation of the humanitarian law and a clear form of collective punishment perpetrated against Palestinians.
- Finally the PHRMG calls upon the Israeli Government to respect, in accordance to the obligations accepted under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the Palestinian people’s freedom of movement throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Israeli military operations in Beit Hanoun
The Israeli military offensive in Beit Hanoun started on the 29th of June, 2004.
Since the beginning of the attack Israeli troops have caused an outstanding number of fatalities among Palestinian people, the demolition of several buildings, and the destruction of thousands of donums of agricultural land and public institutions.
According to the PHRMG sources, during the ongoing Israeli military attacks in Beit Hanoun, the following outcome has been reported so far:
- 16 Palestinians, including 4 children have been killed by Israeli forces.
- About 120 Palestinians, including 57 children and 4 women, have been injured. Dozens of them are still in a serious condition.
- At least 15 houses have been completely demolished and nearly 280 partially damaged.
- About 3900 donums of agricultural land have been razed.
- At least 4 ambulance cars have been hit and consequently damaged by Israeli fire.
- Nearly 25 properties including shops, factories, educational institutions, and workshops have been at least partially damaged.
The military operation in Beit Hanoun took place in response to the launching of five Qassam rockets towards the town of Sderot, during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on June 29.
Since that day Israeli tanks, supported by Apaches helicopters, have encircled the town, home to 21,000 Palestinians. Armored bulldozers, followed by tanks, have cleared all the roads leading from farmlands into the center of town. Attack helicopters have regularly fired machine guns covering ground-forces which engaged in raiding tall buildings and putting snipers in place.
The Israeli military machinery is actually still stationed at the entrances and junctions around Beit Hanoun, while Israeli military patrols are still breaking into Palestinians’ lands and properties. Moreover, Israeli forces have turned a nearby industrial area into military base.
The local inhabitants complain about the critical condition due to the relevant shortage of food supplies and medical care because of the Israeli military curfew and tight siege imposed on the town. Israeli forces have been continuing to prevent ambulances from picking up injured people if without a previous authorization which normally requires considerable time.
On Friday, August 6, Israeli military troops have slowly started to withdraw from Beit Hanoun and the surrounding areas, leaving behind a trail of destruction.
- The PHRMG is extremely concerned about the serious consequences of the current situation in Beit Hanoun due to the strict curfew imposed by the Israeli troops operating in the area.
- The PHRMG strongly condemns the Palestinian launching of Qassam rockets towards Israeli towns. It definitely does not represent the right way to demonstrate Palestinian commitment in pursuing the peace process. Furthermore any sort of violence towards Israeli towns and settlers must to be brought to an end.
- However the PHRMG opposes the disproportionate reaction carried out by Israeli military troops and asks the International Community to immediately provide its best effort to put pressure on the Israeli authorities with the aim of completely ending the siege imposed on the area for35 days.
- Once again the PHRMG considers the Israeli military operation carried out in Beit Hanoun as a grave violation of the international humanitarian law and as an unjustifiable form of collective punishment against the Palestinian society.
United Nation Warning
According to United Nations officials, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are violating their international legal obligations and undermining prospects for peace.
Undersecretary–General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast declared that Israel has an obligation to protect Palestinian civilians and not to destroy their property perpetrating collective punishment as it has been doing recently.
As far the Palestinian Authority is concerned, Mr. Prendergast said that, despite promises made by Mr. Arafat, the PA has made no progress on its core obligation to take immediate action on the ground to end violence and combat terror. Moreover, security reform continues to be very slow due to a worrying lack of political will to advance on this issue.
1) As far as the Palestinian Authority’s internal struggle is concerned, the PHRMG calls upon all the Palestinian forces to achieve a rational solution for pursuing the common aim represented by the establishment of reasonable political institutions necessary for the implementation of the peace process and the consequent accomplishment of an independent and viable Palestinian State.
2) Regarding the Israeli military operations carried out throughout the Gaza Strip, the PHRMG continues to affirm its strong condemnation for such brutal attacks indiscriminately perpetrated against Palestinian people. They are often collective punishment and consequently they represent violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, which states that:
“No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed," and "collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited”.
3) The PHRMG calls upon all the Palestinian forces to uphold fair behaviour, avoiding the perpetration of violent actions such as terrorist attacks or assassination of collaborators. The entire Palestinian society is call upon to demonstrate its genuine commitment to implementing the peace process to the International Community.
4) Finally the PHRMG calls upon the International Community to provide all possible efforts to monitor the violations perpetrated within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The PHRMG firmly believes that substantial improvements in keeping the peace process alive may be reached only with a stronger commitment of the International Institutions and the political Forces backing the “Road Map” on the issue.