The new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority put itself on the wrong side of the most fundamental principle of international humanitarian law when Hamas’s official spokesman defended Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch called on the Palestinian government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, to state unambiguously that attacks targeting civilians constitute grave crimes no matter what the circumstances. The Palestinian Authority must take concrete steps to prevent such attacks and bring those responsible for them to justice.
“In forming a government, Hamas took on the responsibility to prevent unlawful attacks against civilians by its own forces and other Palestinian armed groups as well,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division.
The Palestinian armed group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in a Tel Aviv café, which killed nine civilians in addition to the bomber. After the attack Sami Abu Zuhri, a long-time official spokesman for Hamas, was widely quoted as saying that “the operation is a natural reaction to continued Israeli crimes against our people,” and that “the Palestinian people are in a state of self defense and have every right to use all means to defend themselves.”
Other Hamas officials also endorsed the attack. Wasfi Kabha, minister for prisoners’ affairs in the government, told reporters that the attack occurred “in the framework of legitimate right of resistance against Israeli violations and crimes.” Musa Abu Marzuk, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, called the attack “a natural response to the Israeli aggression on our people.”
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who also leads the Fatah organization, condemned the attack. However, neither Prime Minister Ismail Haniya nor any other Hamas official has apparently done so.
“Prime Minister Haniya needs to censure those in his government who have tried to justify Monday’s atrocity,” Stork said. “His government must unequivocally state that it will respect and enforce the most elemental principle of international humanitarian law.”
Under international law, neither self-defense nor violations by an adversary can ever justify attacks that target civilians. Even in the face of Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, Palestinian armed groups have a duty to refrain from reprisals against civilians, and the Palestinian government has a responsibility to try to prevent such reprisals and punish those who engage in them.