HRW: Egypt should immediately confirm detention of 4 missing Palestinians

Twenty months have passed since four Palestinian young men from the occupied Gaza Strip were mysteriously abducted after entering Egypt via Rafah crossing.

It is worth to mention that the Egyptian authorities have not released any information about the young men’s whereabouts or condition, nor have they confirmed or denied whether the men are in their custody.

However, over the last year various reports strongly suggest that the Egyptian authorities have information about the men, who were low level members of Hamas Resistance Movement .

Last year,media outlets published photographs purporting to show two of the men in a Cairo detention facility, the families believe they are in Egyptian custody.

On 13 April 2017, the Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Egypt’s Interior Minister saying that the Egyptian authorities should immediately disclose whether they are or were holding four Palestinian men from Gaza affiliated with Hamas whose whereabouts are unknown.

Human Rights Watch said Egypt is required by its own criminal code and international law to acknowledge if the men are in its custody.

Under international law, refusal to acknowledge that a person has been detained and holding them incommunicado amounts to enforced disappearance, according to the International right organization.

The group’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said,”Twenty months without contact with the missing men inflicts incalculable anguish and suffering on their families and friends,” She added,”Egyptian authorities should come clean and reveal whether these four disappeared Palestinian men from Gaza are in their custody.”

Since  the Egyptian military coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the Egyptian authorities led by the the military coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have launched massive crackdown against political opponents.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms documented the enforced disappearance by Egyptian police of 912 people between August 2015 and August 2016. Fifty-two remain disappeared.

The four abducted Palestinians are Abduallah Abu Jabin,Abdeldayim Abu Libdah,Hussain  al-Zibdah,and Yasir Zanoun. They are  all in their twenties and from different cities in the Gaza Strip, legally crossed into Egypt on 19 August 2015.

Their families said that once on Egyptian soil in the Sinai Peninsula, they telephoned their families. The men were headed to Cairo International Airport, from where they planned to fly to Turkey. Abu Jabin and Abu Libdah were travelling for school and al-Zibdah and Zannoun for medical care.

But as their bus drove away from Rafah, six armed men in civilian clothes opened fire on their bus at night. When they stormed the bus, they seized the four men, leaving dozens of other passengers behind.

The next day, Hamas said that the men were members of its military wing. Though no group immediately claimed responsibility for the ambush and kidnapping, Hamas released a statement urging the Egyptian interior ministry to free them.

There was no information on their fate for a year.

In August 2016, Al Jazeera Channel reported a leaked photo from a Cairo detention facility that allegedly shows Abu Libdah and Zannoun. The photo shows about a dozen men sitting and slouched over in a filthy hallway.

Moreover, a video also purportedly shows the two men.

The families of both Zannoun’s and Abu Libdah say the photo and video do show the two men.

When I saw the photo, I screamed “Abdeldayim is still alive,”his mother said.

In fact, when a Palestinian delegation visited the country in August 2016, a Hamas official reported that Egypt had set “difficult demands” for their release.

They reportedly including handing some men over to Egypt and battling the Islamic State in the Sinai.

According to the Hamas official, Salah al-Baradwil, the Egyptian authorities suggested they were holding the men by asking the delegation, “Why do you assume that they did not commit any transgression?”

Al-Baradwil said last year that Egypt is engaging in “implicit blackmail.”

Accordingly, the Human Rights Watch emphasizes that Egypt’s obligation under international law to acknowledge the men’s status cannot be negotiated by making demands on Gaza authorities.