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OPT: Al Mezan calls for immediate end of clashes; full respect of IHL and protection of civilians in Gaza

Fierce armed clashes spread in Gaza for the fourth day. The conduct of the clashing parties has tended to get more and more violent and more careless for civilians. Gazan civilians have been targets for crossfire, willful shooting, and murder. Many have been trapped inside their homes unable to move or get food and medical supplies. Numerous homes have been targeted by gunfire and propelled grenades.

Al Mezan is gravely concerned by the possibility of widespread acts of revenge and punishment of civilians in the areas where a party to the clashes dominates after fighting ended. It is also highly troubled by the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions; especially in Gaza City where clashes continue without stop. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been unable to leave their homes and access essential food, fuel and medical supplies. Armed men continue to forcibly take up rooftops of almost all high buildings and use them for shooting and shelling. Naturally, many of those building have been targeted by the rival party causing death of civilians and damage of civilian property.

In addition, Gaza saw serious restrictions on the movement of medical and rescue teams. Many hospitals were attacked by militants, who then took control of them. In the Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, clashes erupted and most of the hospital staff fled the hospital. The sick and the wounded could not have any care for hours. This, added to the restrictions on movement, has caused more fatalities. Since Sunday 10 June 2007, 74 Palestinians have been killed from infighting in Gaza. Over 400 have also been wounded.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights contends that Gaza saw commitment of grave breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL); some might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Center observes that the clashing parties did not take any tangible measures to ensure the safety of uninvolved civilians and their property.

At the same time as Al Mezan strongly condemns the occurrence of armed clashes in Gaza and the killing of tens of Palestinians, it calls Fatah and Hamas to immediately respect the provisions of IHL. It further calls on them to:

- End all acts of combat and clash in Gaza immediately;

- Attend to their obligations under IHL and human rights law and protect civilians; especially through publicly and effectively instructing their members not to perpetrate grave breaches thereof;

- Ensure the safety, wellbeing and dignity of the members of the other party who laid their arms and surrendered;

- Ensure the freedom of movement of medical and rescue teams without interference, and refrain from attacking hospitals and ambulances;

- Ensure the ability of medical teams to collect and care for the wounded and the sick and the movement of essential medical supplies;

- Refrain from attacks against civilian objects; especially homes;

- Take measures to ensure civilians' access to food, fuel and medical supplies and the ability of relief agencies to provide civilians with such supplies.

Al Mezan reiterates its calls for an immediate end of clashes, respect of human rights and IHL and return to a democratic political process based on the rule of law, as the only sustainable outlet of the current situation. These clashes come on top already grave humanitarian conditions lived by Gazans after years of closures, occupation and sanctions bringing the human rights conditions to their lowest point ever.