The Hamas takeover of Gaza: Quickly forgotten facts

Published: 15 July 2007
Briefing Number 198

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“Hamas wants to impose law and order in Gaza ….”

•  Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor, 6 July 2007

Over the course of six days in mid-June 2007, Hamas violently took over Gaza . As a result, the Palestinian movement split, with Gaza controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank controlled by Fatah – for the time being. As Fatah was smashed in Gaza , the short-lived Palestinian ‘unity government' collapsed.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen is one of several commentators who have reported at face value the Hamas statement that it “wishes to impose law and order”. Here is how The Economist ( 23 June 2007 , p27) summarised the Hamas takeover:

“Last month Hamas forces were suddenly deployed on the streets of Gaza ; Hamas forces responded: the clashes killed 40 people before they subsided. When another spark lit the tinderbox this month, it was all over – though not before another hundred had died.”

Here are some facts about the violence which accompanied the Hamas takeover of Gaza . These facts are being whitewashed by Bowen, The Economist and other journalists.

The Hamas takeover was planned long in advance, and was ‘vicious'

“We always knew the fight was coming – everybody did… We planned every step in great detail” (Islam Shahawan, spokesman for Hamas's crack 6000-man militia, the Executive Force, quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, 19 June 2007 ). “We never expected such viciousness, such ruthlessness [from Hamas]….” (Radwan al-Akhrass, a Fatah member in Rafah, quoted in the same interview)

Use of Palestinian hospitals to launch armed attacks

Hamas security guards used the roof of the European hospital in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis to launch an assault on a nearby Fatah position. Head of nursing Atta Al Jaabari said: “the assault caused panic among staff, some of whom had children at a kindergarten site, but doctors treated three of the wounded as the battle continued….”.

Gunmen fought running battles in the grounds of the Shifa hospital, Gaza 's largest medical centre, and the hospital in the North Gaza town of Beit Hanoun was closed after three people were shot dead inside it

•  report from The Guardian Unlimited, 13 June 2007

Throwing Palestinians, hands and legs tied, off high-rise buildings

On 11 June members of the Hamas Executive Force took a member of Fatah, Muhammad Al-Swerki, tied him by his hands and feet, and threw him to his death from the 15 th floor of the Al Ghefari tower in the Western Gaza Strip (reported on the Palestine Press News Agency website, 11 June 2007 ). (Another report described Fatah as carrying out the same act on a Hamas member – from the 12 th floor of a tower block).

Shooting opponents in the knees

Zecharia Alrai, 39, an officer in Fatah's Elite Force 17, was abducted by four Hamas gunmen on 12 June. According to reports, they loaded him into a jeep and drove him to an isolated spot, where they shot three bullets into his leg and dumped him. Alrai said, from his hospital bed: “That's not Islam. That's evil and hypocrisy…..”

A 23 year old Palestinian policeman, described only as Shadi, was attacked by Hamas gunmen on 13 June. “There were five of them. They stood over me and shot my legs from the knee down. One of them put his Kalashnikov to my head. Instinctively I moved the barrel aside and the bullet hit my hand”. Shadi arrived at Tel-Aviv's Ichilov hospital with one leg amputated and the other leg crushed.

•  reported by Ha'aretz, 21 June 2007

Execution of Fatah men in front of wives and children

Various sources reported Hamas fighters taking Fatah prisoners out and executing them in public, in from of their wives and children (Jerusalem Post, 18 June 2007 ). Several Palestinian children were seriously wounded in Hamas-Fatah crossfire, and treated at the Ichilov hospital in Tel-Aviv (Ha'aretz, 21 June 2007 ).

Two UN workers shot dead in crossfire

On 12 June two Palestinian UN workers were shot dead in crossfire between Hamas and Fatah. They worked for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which announced it would temporarily suspend most of its operations in Gaza, as a result (reported by Reuters, 13 June 2007).

Mahmoud Abbas calls Hamas “murderous terrorists”

At the conclusion of the violence, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called Hamas “murderous terrorists” (Ha'aretz, 21 June 2007 ).

The Hamas takeover involved ‘war crimes', says Israeli human rights group

Israeli human rights group B'tselem accused Hamas of committing “war crimes” and flagrant breaches of international law in its takeover of Gaza . It called on Hamas to prosecute those individuals responsible for the crimes (B'tselem press release, 18 June 2007 , reported in Jerusalem Post).

B'tselem is frequently quoted by commentators on Israel : this press release received less coverage than some others.

In a statement from London , Amnesty International stated that while Hamas political leaders condemned killings and attacks by Fatah, they had “kept silent about the abuses committed by its own fighters….” (Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director of the Middle East and North Africa , reported in Jerusalem Post, 18 June 2007 ).

Arab media commentary on the Hamas takeover

“Hamas is booby-trapping Palestinian society with destructive ideas… “ Ahmad al-Jarallah, editor of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, 18 June 2007 .

“The Hamas emirate will be a source of spiritual inspiration for Islamist groups and a meeting point for everyone interested in armed activities….”

- Tariq Al-Humayd, commentator in Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 18 June 2007

“Imposing law and order” – or Hamas guilt for war crimes?

Days after these events, Jeremy Bowen commented on the BBC that “Hamas wants to impose law and order in Gaza ”. He added: “But there are plenty of issues they need to sort out before that can happen….” One of the issues which they might like to ‘sort out' is guilt for its war crimes.

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