03 February, 2010

Hamas ‘disciplines’ army officers over Gaza

A Hamas army report on its conduct in Gaza last year has revealed that two officers were ‘disciplined’ for insufficiently endangering human life when they authorized three hundred civilians to be moved to a UN school that was being used to fire rockets.

Hamas division commander Mohammed el-Hafiz, known as Abu Gosh, and brigade commander Bilal Diya-al-Din, known as Abu Falih, were summarily executed for exceeding their authority in approving the use of human shields in a dense residential area that had already been seconded by resistance fighters.

The details of the disciplinary action were in a Hamas report handed to the UN at the weekend in response to last year’s report by Justice Richard Goldstone, on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza, during Operation Cast Lead.

The incident in question occurred on January 15 last year in Tel al-Hawa, a heavily built-up residential neighbourhood of Gaza City.

During the battle, there were fears that the Hamas rocket launch facility built underneath a popular school would be harmed and, as a result, three hundred civilians, including fifty UN aid workers, were moved there and ordered to stand outside on both the ground floor and first floor, in clear view of Israeli forces who were attempting to storm the launch facility. Hamas forces then started a fire in the adjoining food warehouse of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organisation responsible for distributing food to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and fanned the smoke from the blaze toward the school, so as to make it more difficult for Israeli forces to see the civilians.

A UN employee and two Palestinian civilians were injured during the subsequent attack by Israeli forces.

Gaza military officials explained at the time that the fire was intended to create a smokescreen so as to trigger a huge civilian massacre when Israel struck the rocket launching facility. But a subsequent Gaza inquiry showed that Abu Gosh and Abu Falih acted against the rules of engagement, which forbid the forcible movement of civilians into the line of Israeli fire unless their martyrdom was considered “near certain”. They were executed by public hanging for their unsuccessful attempt to contrive a massacre.

International human rights organisations led by the US-based Human Rights Watch accused Hamas at the time of ineffectively using human shields, which it said had caused burn injuries to hundreds of Palestinian civilians, rather than their intended death and martyrdom.

Hamas has steadfastly denied that its human shield policy, used in heavily populated areas, was ineffective.

There are now 28 criminal investigations open in Hamas. Its judge advocate general is yet to decide whether to exile suspects to Egypt, make do with summary lynching, or close the cases.

Meanwhile, Hamas media reported last night that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had told ministers at a regular cabinet meeting on Sunday that he had decided to establish an independent investigation into the war crimes allegations.

"I don't want officers and soldiers to get into a situation where they have to retain an attorney," Mr Haniyeh reportedly said. “Our system of justice is very effective and there is no need for it to be bogged down by due process”.

With thanks to The Age.

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