Red Cross offers workshops in international law to Hamas

The New York Times reports: Mamadou Sow, who heads Red Cross operations in Gaza, said that in April he presented a critique of Hamas’s conduct during the 2014 hostilities to its top political and military leaders, and that they “welcomed it” and “indicated that they are a learning organization.” He said they also “challenged us to keep in mind the topology of the Gaza Strip,” one of the most densely populated patches on the planet.

“For the first time,” said Jacques de Maio, director of the Red Cross delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, “Hamas is actually, in a private, protected space, expressing a readiness to look critically at a number of things that have an impact on their level of respect for international humanitarian law.”

He added, “Whether this will translate into something concrete, time will tell.”

Besides participating in the workshops, Hamas has altered its propaganda in the aftermath of the war. New talking points stress that tunnel attacks last summer targeted military positions, not civilian communities, and argue — dubiously — that rockets fly toward civilian areas because the Gaza groups lack guiding technology.

Still, Hamas leaders routinely praise attacks on Israelis, and there are widespread reports that Qassam is rebuilding tunnels to infiltrate Israeli territory.

Last week, in announcing the arrest of a Qassam fighter in July, Israel’s security service said that he had told interrogators “the organization’s fighters endanger many civilians by storing explosives in their homes, on the instructions of Hamas commanders.”

Mr. de Maio of the Red Cross acknowledged that “a big ethical, fundamental question would be, ‘Are we now shaking hands with the devil?’ ” But he said his group’s work with rogue rulers and rebels around the world had altered their modi operandi. He cited a 2011 episode in Afghanistan in which operatives painted a vehicle like an ambulance. “We engaged with the Taliban and it was a long process,” he said. Eventually commanders issued an order saying it was a mistake that should not be repeated, “and it didn’t happen again.”

The Red Cross and the Qassam Brigades let reporters from The New York Times observe the first day of the workshop in July, on the condition that neither the trainers nor the participants be named, and that no photographs be taken. Role-playing and case studies — one exercise involved an armed group firing on an invading tank from the garden of a civilian home, near a hospital — were also off limits.

Most of the men were in their 20s and wore trim beards. Their leader opened by saying, “All what we’re going to hear we can find in our religion,” urging them “to take it very seriously” and reminding them to silence their cellphones. [Continue reading…]

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