and sworn statements from eyewitnesses and residents of the neighbourhood where armed confrontation between members of the Hamas-affiliated ‘Izz ad Din Al Qassam Brigades (Al Qassam Brigades) and Palestinian security personnel erupted. Al-Haq‘s field researchers also met with some of the Palestinian security officers who participated in the operation. It was not possible to obtain statements from Mrs. Huda al-Basha and Bassam al-Yaseen, respectively the wife and the brother of two of the victims, as the former is still hospitalised under strict surveillance and the latter is being detained by the Palestinian Security Forces.
The detailed documentation gathered and its longstanding experience in investigating incidents such as the one occurred in Qalqiliya on 31 May 2009, allowed Al-Haq to shed light on the specifics of the incident. In particular, Al-Haq can detail the following:
- On 31 May 2009, between 9:00 and 10:00 pm, dozens of Palestinian security officers arrived in the Adh Dhahr neighbourhood (also known as Bir adh Dhahr), in southern Qalqiliya. Eyewitnesses estimated that approximately 50-60 security officers of the Palestinian Joint Security Force deployed in the area. This force comprised of personnel of the Palestinian National Security, the General and Military Intelligence and the Preventive Security agencies.
- The operation aimed to arrest Mohammed as-Samman, field commander of the Al Qassam Brigades in the northern West Bank, and of Mohammed al-Yaseen. According to intelligence gathered by the Joint Security Force, as-Samman and al-Yaseen were present in a flat located on the second floor of a building in Adh Dhahr neighbourhood. The Joint Security Force surrounded the area in an attempt to effect the arrest.
- When Palestinian security officers approached the targeted building, a number of residents were sitting in the yards of the neighbourhood. The target building is located in an area comprising several adjacent buildings. These belong to three brothers namely, Abdul Haleem, Abdul Nasser and Isma’il al-Basha. Two other buildings located in the same block belong respectively to Diriyyeh and al-Basha families.
- Once the Joint Security Force reached the area, one of the security officers demanded the 40 year-old owner of the flat where the suspects were believed to hide, Mr. Abdul Nasser al-Basha, and his wife, Huda, to allow the security officers to search their house.
- Initially, Mrs. al-Basha refused the security officers to search her flat. As they insisted, she finally agreed. Along with a group of security officers, Mr. and Mrs. Al Basha entered the building.
- While going up the stairs, Mrs. al-Basha loudly expressed her resentment about the presence of security personnel in her house. She, her husband, and five security officers reached the second floor while other two security officers accessed the roof of the building. Eventually, Mrs. and Mr. al-Basha and three officers arrived at the door of the flat that the security officers intended to search.
- As soon as Mrs. al-Basha attempted to open the door of her flat, they were invested by intensive shooting coming from inside. A grenade was also thrown in the direction of the people standing outside the flat, resulting in the injury of the three Palestinian security officers and of Mr. and Mrs. al-Basha. A few moments later, another grenade was launched from inside the flat but failed to explode. Then, the gunfire briefly ceased.
- While the rest of the security forces were deploying on the ground floor and throughout the building, they heard the gunfire and decided to leave the building. Security officers could not fully understand what was happening inside the building neither could they assess whether there were casualties. Consequently, security officers positioned in the surrounding area opened intensive fire towards the building. Their gunfire received limited response from the members of the Al Qassam Brigades, and then the security forces stopped shooting.
- At about 12:00 am, Bassam al-Yaseen, who had been arrested few days prior the incident by the Preventive Security, was brought to the scene. With a loudspeaker, he spoke to the people besieged inside the flat. He informed them that he intended to enter the building to talk. The latter agreed under the condition that Bassam al-Yaseen be alone in approaching and entering the building.
- Bassam al-Yaseen entered the besieged building, where he stayed for approximately ten minutes. Upon his return outside, he informed the security officers that there were injured people on the stairway of the building but he could not confirm whether they were still alive.
- Following the information of injured people, an ambulance was called to the scene to evacuate them. The medical personnel attempted several times to reach the building but they were always confronted with gunfire and were eventually forced to desist from the rescue operation.
- At about 2:20 am, Mohammed al-Yaseen walked out of the besieged building. He was in plain clothes and carrying an M16 automatic rifle and a pistol. He opened fire intensively and indiscriminately at the forces deployed outside the building, which responded to the fire and killed him. Then, an exchange of gunfire broke out between the people inside the building and the Joint Security Force, which lasted until about 3:10 am. Once the shooting ceased, medics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society managed to evacuated the body of Mohammed al Yaseen from the scene.
- At approximately 4:00 am, a woman inside the building was heard crying for help. An ambulance attempted to reach the house and evacuate her, but once again, it was met by intensive shooting and forced to retreat.
- Sporadic exchange of gunfire between Palestinian security personnel and Mohammed as-Samman continued until about 6:30 am. Eventually, the shooting stopped and the security officers were able to enter the building and to announce that the situation was under control.
- When medical personnel entered the building, they found the dead bodies of Shaher Shureim and Abdul Rahman Yaseen, both members of the Palestinian Preventive Security; of Jamal ar-Rukh, member of the Palestinian National Security; and of Abdul Nasser al-Basha, the flat owner. This latter was found on the stairway and the door of his flat was found open.
- The dead body of Mohammed as-Samman was also evacuated. Mrs. al-Basha was found lying near the entrance of the flat, she was injured and the medics immediately transferred her to the hospital.
In light of the above Al-Haq concludes that:
- There was a clear intention of those targeted by the Joint Security Force to engage in armed confrontation with the security personnel. They resolutely pursued armed resistance against the arrest attempt.
- The exchange of gunfire was initiated by the members of the Al Qassam Brigades and not by the Palestinian security personnel.
- The members Al Qassam Brigades, while under siege in the flat belonging to Abdul Nasser al-Basha, prevented injured people from being duly evacuated. They opened fire towards the ambulances impeding effective medical assistance to the injured.
- The incident described above is to be considered in the wider context of abuses that, regrettably, are being committed by security agencies. Palestinian security agencies‘ record of ill-treatment of Hamas members under custody certainly discouraged the Al Qassam Brigades members from surrendering. In particular, Palestinian security personnel subject Hamas members to torture, ill-treatment and abuse, which also seriously undermine the trust in a fair and human treatment that security agencies should uphold.
- Leaders of the Al Qassam Brigades who incite their members to violence against arrest attempts are effectively undermining the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the confrontation between Palestinian political factions. The Al Qassam Brigades’ explicit call for the use of force to contrast arrest attempts against its members represents a growing menace for the civilian population caught in the crossfire in those areas where the confrontation between political factions is more severe. This inflammatory attitude will further aggravate internal divisions and conflict.
- Ends -