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Hamas, torture and jihad

Kersten Knipp / dc
May 27, 2015

Amnesty International has accused Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip of serious human rights abuses, including torture and public executions meant to intimidate opponents.

Palästinenser Gaza Militärparade von Hamas in Gaza City
Image: Reuters/M. Salem

Kidnappings, torture, and extra-judicial killings: The human rights organization Amnesty International has leveled serious accusations at the governing Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.

Amnesty says that during the 50-day war against Israel in the summer of 2014, the Islamist regime killed at least 23 residents in Gaza. Among them, the organization says, were members of the rival Fatah party as well as people accused of collaborating with Israel during the conflict.

"In the chaos of the conflict, the de facto Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuses including against people in its custody," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Director.

According to Amnesty, several of the people accused of collaborating with Israel were already in prison before the war broke out, so that they could not possibly have worked for the Israelis.

Gaza Stadt Hamas Israel 50 Tage Krieg
Female members of Hamas in GazaImage: Reuters/M. Salem

Public executions

Six of the people sentenced to death were reportedly executed in public before large crowds that also included children. Amnesty says the executions had one main goal: "They were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip."

Hamas spokesman Fawsi Barhoum rejects the accusations. He says the report is "deliberately exaggerated" and written "without listening to all sides and without making an effort to check the truthfulness of information." Amnesty, on the other hand, says the report is based on interviews with former prisoners and family members of the executed.

Palästinenser Gaza Militärparade von Hamas in Gaza City
A show of strength: Hamas displays a home-made Qassam rocket in GazaImage: Reuters/S. Salem

"No alternative to Hamas"

Hamas' claim to power in Gaza isn't really in jeopardy, according to retired Israeli General Sami Turgeman. "Within the Gaza Strip, there is one ruler, and that is Hamas. And Hamas knows how to exert power over others. As far as we know, there's no alternative in the Gaza Strip that could replace Hamas," he said.

That doesn't mean that Hamas has no challengers. That became clear on Tuesday when at least one missile was fired into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

According to a report in "Haaretz," Israeli security officials believe that the group "Islamic Jihad" was behind the attack. Internal rivalries caused one faction of the group to deploy the missile, the report in "Haaretz" said.

The Israeli military is holding Hamas responsible for the attack, as it is the authority in the region. But, recognizing that Hamas did not plan the attack, the military responded with restraint.

Salafists and Jihadists

The incident shows, however, that Hamas does not have complete control over Gaza. In 2009, Hamas moved against some 100 Salafists who had occupied Rafah's Ibn Taymiyya mosque, and declared the creation of an Islamic caliphate.

Dschihad Flagge Fahne Islamismus Heiliger Krieg Gazastreifen Israel
Islamic Jihad militants marching in the Rafah refugee camp in GazaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Several leaders of the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) now cite the teachings of the mosque's namesake, the 4th century theologian Ibn Taymiyya. When Hamas stormed the mosque, many of the occupiers were killed. Others have remained in prison since the incident.

Hamas is still struggling with Salafists and, to a lesser extent, jihadists. In mid-May, the online magazine "Al Monitor" reported that Hamas has set up "hundreds" of checkpoints in the Gaza Strip in order to arrest Salafists and Salafist sympathizers. Political scientist Khalid Safi says Gaza is home to Salafists who are prepared to resort to violence, including attacks on Hamas. In his view, their numbers are manageable, yet high enough to keep Hamas' security forces on the lookout.