HRW demands information on four Palestinians missing in Egypt

HRW demands information on four Palestinians missing in Egypt
HRW has urged Egyptian authorities to 'immediately disclose' whether they are or were holding four Palestinian men from Gaza affiliated with Hamas whose whereabouts are unknown.
3 min read
14 April, 2017
Families of the missing men believe they are in Egyptian custody [Getty]
Human Rights Watch is urging Egyptian authorities to disclose information relating to the whereabouts of four Palestinian men affiliated with neighbouring Gaza's governing authority Hamas.

The Palestinians were "taken away by armed men" after crossing the borders from the besieged Gaza enclave to Egypt nearly 20 months ago, HRW said.

"Egyptian authorities should come clean and reveal whether these four disappeared Palestinian men from Gaza are in their custody," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.

"Twenty months without contact with the missing men inflicts incalculable anguish and suffering on their families and friends."

Families of the missing men believe they are in Egyptian custody, based on media reports, including photos purporting to show two of the men in a Cairo detention facility, HRW said.

However, with Egyptian authorities denying knowledge of the detention or refusing to reveal their whereabouts, the Palestinians’ detention would constitute an enforced disappearance.

In a letter addressed to Egypt's Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and Prosecutor General Nabil Sadeq, HRW's Whitson urged the immediate acknowledgment of whether any of the four Palestinians was in custody of Egyptian authorities.

"This obligation is unconditional and cannot be contingent on the fulfilment of demands by the Gaza authorities," she said.

"Egyptian authorities should immediately charge the men if they suspect them of criminal activity, or otherwise release them."

Aged between 23 and 29, the men were identified as Abdullah Abu al-Jebain, Abd al-Dayyam Abu Lebda, Hussein al-Zebda, and Yasser Zenoun.

Their families told HRW that the men legally passed through the Rafah border crossing on 19 August 2015, later boarding a bus headed to Cairo International Airport via the Sinai Peninsula.

The men were planning to head to Turkey, where two of them were pursuing an education, while the other two sought medical treatement.

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"About 300 metres after the bus left Rafah, six armed men in civilian clothes fired on the bus and forcibly took custody of the four men," HRW said other passengers on the bus told the families.

The families have not heard from the men since.

In August 2016, al-Jazeera news network published a photo claiming to show Abu Lebda and Zenoun sitting in a Cairo detention facility.

The following month, the Hamas then-Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad told HRW that all four men were Hamas members but not high-level officials.

The Rafah border crossing, which links Egypt with Gaza, is the main entry and exit point for two million Palestinians who live under Israeli siege to enter and exit the Strip.

It has been effectively sealed by Egyptian authorities since October 2014, when a militant attack in the restive Sinai Peninsula left over 30 Egyptian security personnel dead, leading to heightened security measures.

Egypt accuses Hamas of having provided the weapons for the attack, an allegation strongly denied by the Islamist movement.

During the short presidency of Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Hamas enjoyed stronger relations with Egypt. However, this has reversed under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is affiliated to Hamas.

Having also built a buffer zone along the Gaza border, Egypt effectively completed the shutting-off of Gaza from the outside world, while an Israeli blockade since 2007 has maintained a stranglehold on the Mediterranean coastal strip.

This blockade has drawn huge international criticism, with many having described Gaza as effectively the "world's largest open air prison".