At approximately 1:30am on Thursday 17 February 2011, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) opened fire and artillery shells under the cover of aircrafts at three Palestinian men who where near the separation fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the north of the Gaza Strip. The three were in the As-Siafa area, northwest of Beit Lahyia town, in the North Gaza district. The shooting lasted for about one hour.
At approximately 8:20am on the same day, the dead bodies of the three men were transferred by an ambulance to the Kamal Odwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya town. Al Mezan identified the names of the three men as follows:
· Jihad Fathi Mohammed Khalaf, 20, from Jabalia;
· Ashraf Abdel Lateef Rasheed Iqteefan, 32; from Gaza city; and
· Tala't Mohammed Salama Ar-Rawagh, 40, from Gaza city.
The IOF announced that it killed three Palestinians who approached the separation fence to smuggle into Israel through the separation fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel. However, Al Mezan’s investigations found that the three were civilians working in the area with other people.
According to Al Mezan's field investigations, the dead bodies were defaced and torn apart. Their dead bodies were carried on horse-driven carts by workers who were with the victims in the area for about one kilometer, then an ambulance carried them to hospital.
The field investigations by Al Mezan indicated that the three victims were in the area to collect seashells to sell them. They are used to go to this coastal area west of the As-Siafa area, not far from the separation fence. The three victims were dressed in civilian clothes and did not carry any weapons on them. They did not form any threat to the IOF when they were attacked.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns the killing of three Palestinian civilians by the IOF. This conduct contravenes with international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (of 1949) and the basic principles of distinction and proportionality. Similar violations by the IOF occur frequently as IOF systematic attacks civilians and their property in areas near the border in the context of enforcing a security buffer zone along the border fence.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to promptly intervene to provide protection to Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory; including the Gaza Strip. The international community has an obligation to take steps to bring the deliberate killing, forced displacement and abuse Palestinian civilians to an end. The IOF violent, illegal enforcement of the security buffer zone has caused numerous deaths and injuries to civilians and prevented Palestinian farmers from access to their land; thus deepening the humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Strip.