February 25, 2024

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Israeli photos showing Palestinian detainees in underwear spark outrage

Israeli photos showing Palestinian detainees in underwear spark outrage

  • Pictures posted on social media show detained men almost naked
  • A senior Hamas official condemns Israeli forces over the photos
  • Israel says the men were in areas they had been asked to evacuate

CAIRO (Reuters) – Palestinian, Arab and Muslim officials condemned Israel on Friday after photos of detained Palestinian men stripped to their underwear in Gaza spread on social media.

Izzat Al-Rishq, a senior official in the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), accused Israel of committing a “heinous crime against innocent civilians.”

Al-Rishq, who lives in exile abroad, urged international human rights organizations to intervene to uncover what happened to the men and help in their release.

The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern about the photos and said that all detainees must be treated with humanity and dignity in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, whose country supports Hamas, also criticized Israel, accusing it of “brutality in the treatment of prisoners and innocent citizens.”

On Thursday, Israeli television showed footage, verified by Reuters, of Hamas fighters who were captured, stripped to their underwear, with their heads bowed, sitting in a street in Gaza City.

Israeli government spokesman Elon Levy said in a press conference when asked about the photos, “We are talking about individuals who were arrested in Jabalia and Shejaiya (in Gaza City), Hamas’ strongholds and centers of gravity.”

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He added: “We are talking about men of military service age who were discovered in areas that civilians were supposed to evacuate weeks ago.”

The Israeli army is asking civilians to leave the areas where it intends to operate after launching its campaign to eliminate Hamas in Gaza following the killing spree carried out by the Armed Islamic Group on October 7 in Israel.

One photo showed more than 20 detainees kneeling on the sidewalk or in the street, while Israeli soldiers looked on, with dozens of shoes and sandals left in the road. A similar number of detainees, also semi-naked, were crammed into the back of a nearby truck.

Some Palestinians said they recognized relatives in the photos and denied that they had ties to Hamas or any other group. They said some of them were boys or young men.

Al-Rishq said that the detainees were captured in a school in Gaza that was being used as a shelter after weeks of Israeli bombing, which led to the displacement of many Gazans.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a press conference before his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that doctors and journalists were among the men who were captured and “humiliated.”

Appeal to human rights groups

Al-Rishq added that Hamas held the Israeli forces responsible for the lives and safety of the detainees.

“We call on human rights organizations to intervene immediately to expose this heinous crime against innocent civilians who took refuge in a school that was turned into a shelter due to Zionist aggression and massacres, and to press by all means for their release.” He said.

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The London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper said that one of the detained men was its correspondent, Diaa Kahlot. She urged the international community and human rights groups to condemn the arrest of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for his release.

Some Palestinians identified the place where the men were captured as the northeastern town of Beit Lahia, an area that Israel has warned civilians not to leave and has been surrounded by Israeli tanks for weeks. Reuters confirmed that the location is Beit Lahia.

Hani Al-Madhoun, an American of Palestinian origin residing in Virginia, said he saw his relatives in one of the photos, including his 12-year-old nephew, and that they had no connection to Hamas or other factions.

Al-Madhoun told Reuters later on Friday that Israeli forces released 12 of his relatives and in-laws after arresting them and interrogating them for 12 hours at a location inside the town of Beit Lahia. The Hamas-run government media office also confirmed that Israel had released some of those it arrested, but it was not clear how many people were still in its custody.

“We strongly emphasize the importance of treating all detainees with humanity and dignity, in accordance with international humanitarian law,” Jessica Mossan, media relations advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Middle East, said in a statement.

Hossam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission in London, said the images evoked “some of the darkest periods in the history of humanity.” Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said on X that the incident was “a blatant attempt to insult and degrade Palestinian men… who have been stripped and displayed like war trophies.”

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Additional reporting by Reuters correspondents in Beirut and Jerusalem and Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay in Washington. Additional reporting by Reuters correspondents in Beirut and Jerusalem and Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay in Washington. Writing by Timothy Heritage; Edited by Angus MacSwan, Mark Heinrich and Diane Craft

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.