Amnesty International on Wednesday harshly criticized rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah for harming civilians in their deadly infighting.
The international human rights group released a 58-page report titled "Torn apart by factional strife," and said about 350 Palestinians were killed during the first months of 2007 in infighting in the Gaza Strip. Many of the dead were noncombatants, Amnesty said.
The clashes peaked in mid-June, when Hamas militants thrashed pro-Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip and overran the territory.
After the Hamas takeover, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah dismissed the Hamas-led Cabinet and formed his own government, which controls the West Bank. Hamas, led by deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, continues to rule Gaza.
During the clashes, militants mounted attacks from civilian apartment buildings and hospitals and targeted rival patients in their hospital beds, the London-based organization said. Fighter used crowded residential neighborhoods as war zones, firing mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and bullets from civilian buildings.
The Abbas government condemned the report, and a Hamas spokesman said his government wants to "open a new page" through dialogue with Fatah.
In examples cited by the report, a child running to a shop buy candy was killed by shrapnel, a young woman heading to a school exam died from a sniper bullet, and a peaceful march through Gaza City to demand an end to the clashes came under fire that killed three civilians.
'We have acted according to law'
Amnesty charged that militants were killed by rivals while in captivity, and others were maimed, often by shooting captives in the shin bones and knees. Civilians also suspected of loyalty to rival groups were drawn into the conflict, the report said. Pro-Fatah security forces snatched Husam Abu Qinas, a 35-year-old tiler, and threw him off a roof, in apparent retribution for Hamas militants throwing a security force official off a high-rise hours before.
Amnesty International said after rival factions formed separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both cracked down on suspected rival loyalists.
In the Gaza Strip, members of the Hamas military wing act as police and have detained and tortured Fatah activists and critics. Hamas police routinely beat protesters to break up demonstrations, and have roughed up journalists covering the events, Amnesty said.
In the West Bank, pro-Fatah security forces detained about 1,000 Hamas sympathizers and members, forcing many to sign statements condemning the Islamic group and disavowing their loyalties to it. Although most were held briefly, many reported being ill-treated or tortured, Amnesty said.
Fatah loyalists have also acted against Hamas sympathizers with impunity, smashing up Hamas-linked institutions, kidnapping and harassing loyalists, the rights group said.
Ashraf Ajrami, a minister in the West Bank government, said the report was baseless.
"I don't think they tried very hard to find out the truth," he said. "We have acted according to law."
Taher Nunu, a Hamas government spokesman, said his movement had acted out of necessity to put an end to chaos in Gaza.
"We regret the victims that fell during the internal clashes. ... Our concern was to defend civilians and our people," he said. "The solution to the disagreement is not by laying blame but is by returning to dialogue and opening a new page."