Inter-factional tensions increased after President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, which had ruled the Palestinian Authority (PA) since its establishment more than a decade earlier, was defeated by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in parliamentary elections in January. Hamas formed a government, headed by Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh, in March. Armed confrontations between rival security forces and armed groups increased as repeated attempts to form a coalition government of national unity failed. In December President Abbas announced his intention to call presidential and parliamentary elections, sparking a new wave of inter-factional fighting.
Following the establishment of a government led by Hamas, which refused to recognize the state of Israel, the Israeli government began confiscating tax duties due to the PA, and key Western donors ceased direct aid to the PA government on the grounds that they considered Hamas a "terrorist organization". This created a deepening crisis in the Palestinian economy, exacerbated by frequent Israeli military attacks on Palestinian infrastructure and a blockade imposed by Israel on the OPT. The Gaza Strip bore the brunt of the Israeli bombardments and blockade. At the same time, Palestinian armed groups increased their firing of homemade "Qassam" rockets from the Gaza Strip into the south of Israel, notably in the second half of the year.
Deteriorating economic and social conditions
Conditions for Palestinians in the OPT deteriorated throughout the year. Their economic situation was hit hard by Israel's confiscation of import tax duties that it collects on behalf of the PA, half the entire PA government budget; the cut in aid to the PA government by international donors, notably the European Union (EU) and the USA; and banking sanctions imposed by Israel, which prevented the transfer of funds to the Hamas administration. The measures left the PA government, the largest employer in the OPT, unable to pay salaries or deliver health, education and other key services to three and a half million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The international community took no measures to require Israel, as the occupying power, to meet its obligation under international law to ensure the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population. The EU established a Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) in an effort to reduce the humanitarian crisis. However, by the end of the year it was still not fully operational and did not prevent further deterioration of the already overstretched health sector, which could not cope with a growing number of patients. The increased demand was caused by the numerous casualties of Israeli military attacks and the patients who were prevented from seeking treatment abroad by the continuing Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Education and other crucial public services were similarly affected by the lack of funds, particularly when the PA was unable to pay the salaries of more than 150,000 public sector workers for several months. In September teachers joined other public sector workers striking to protest against the non-payment of their salaries. The education of hundreds of thousands of children was disrupted as a result. In December UN aid agencies launched a US$450 million emergency appeal in response to the growing needs of the Palestinian population.
Destruction of Palestinian infrastructure by Israeli forces caused long-term damage and a further worsening of living conditions. In June, Israeli forces bombed and badly damaged the Gaza Strip's only power plant, which supplied electricity to half of its 1.5 million inhabitants and left them without electricity for most of the day throughout the hottest months of the year, and often without water that is extracted and distributed using electricity. Israeli forces also bombed bridges, roads, and water and sewage networks. Hundreds of Palestinians were made homeless as scores of buildings were destroyed and damaged by Israeli air strikes and artillery shelling in the Gaza Strip. Other homes were demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the West Bank, including in the East Jerusalem area.
Palestinian armed groups launched a growing number of "Qassam" rockets from the Gaza Strip into the south of Israel. These indiscriminate rockets killed two Israeli civilians and injured several others, and caused widespread alarm, although most resulted in no casualties.
The main Palestinian parties, notably Fatah and Hamas, restated their 2005 commitment to refrain from killing Israelis - known as the tahadiyeh (quiet) - but continued to carry out attacks on Israelis together with other groups. However, the number of Israelis killed in such attacks decreased to half the previous year's figure and to the lowest level since the beginning of the intifada in 2000. In total, 21 Israeli civilians, including a child, and six soldiers were killed in Palestinian attacks. The deadliest attack was a suicide bombing claimed by the armed wing of Islamic Jihad on 17 April, which killed 11 civilians and injured 68 others in Tel Aviv.
A second suicide attack killed four Israeli settlers, including a 16-year-old child, near the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, in the northern West Bank, on 30 March. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) claimed responsibility for most attacks. In June the armed wing of Hamas and the PRC claimed responsibility for an attack on an Israeli military base near the Gaza Strip in which two soldiers were killed and a third was captured. Hamas announced that the soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, would only be freed in exchange for the release of some of the 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Negotiations were reportedly ongoing but no exchange of prisoners had been agreed by the end of the year.
Killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces increased threefold compared to the previous years (see Israel and the Occupied Territories entry). Some 650 Palestinians, half of them unarmed civilians and including about 120 children, were killed in Israeli air strikes, artillery shelling and reckless shooting into densely populated refugee camps and residential areas. Israeli forces bombed and destroyed several PA government ministries and other buildings, housing charities and institutions linked to Hamas. Israeli attacks escalated dramatically after the capture of Gilad Shalit in June. Most of the Israeli attacks targeted the Gaza Strip, although scores of Palestinians were also killed in towns and villages throughout the West Bank.
Unlawful killings, lawlessness and impunity
Security forces loyal to the previous PA Fatah administration and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and other armed groups linked to Fatah challenged the authority of the new Hamas administration, which set up a new security force made up of its loyalists. Armed confrontations between rival security forces and armed groups were particularly frequent in the Gaza Strip, where family feuds and common law crimes often were intertwined with political violence. Bystanders were frequently caught in the crossfire and scores were killed and injured amid growing lawlessness.
• Ten-year old Ousama Ba'lousha and his two brothers, Ahmad and Salam, aged seven and four, were shot dead in Gaza City on their way to school on
11 December, when gunmen opened fire at the car in which they were travelling. The boys' father, a high-ranking officer in the PA intelligence services, had reportedly survived an assassination attempt some months earlier. Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the killings of the children but the perpetrators were not brought to justice.
The proliferation of unlicensed weapons helped fuel the violence and insecurity. PA law enforcement and judicial authorities were unable or unwilling to carry out their duties. Victims of abuses were denied justice and redress, while the perpetrators of abuses were not held to account. In the West Bank, the Israeli army continued in practice to prevent PA security forces from operating in many areas ostensibly under the jurisdiction of the PA. The economic crisis and the government's inability to pay civil servants and
others employed directly by the PA, including members of the security forces, led to strikes and demonstrations, some of which developed into riots such as in June and September when security officials stormed the parliament and ministries, destroying public property.
Abductions and other unlawful killings
Scores of Palestinians and some 20 foreign journalists and aid workers were abducted by Palestinian armed groups, mostly in the Gaza Strip. All the foreign nationals were released unharmed, mostly within hours, but two journalists were held for two weeks in August. The captors usually demanded jobs or political concessions from the PA in exchange for the release of their foreign hostages. Abductions of Palestinians took place in the context of confrontations between rival armed groups, security forces and feuding families, but little information was known about the identities of the victims or the demands made for their release. Most were released, but several were killed, including some who their captors accused of "collaborating" with Israeli security services. Killings of alleged "collaborators" were claimed by or were believed to have been carried out by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and other Fatah splinter groups.
Violence against women
Women continued to suffer from the negative impact of the occupation and conflict, including the destruction of homes, increased poverty and movement restrictions that further restricted their access to health services and education. While there were increased demands on women as carers and providers, the deteriorating situation contributed to increased family and societal violence. At least four women were killed by male relatives in "honour" crimes in the Gaza Strip.
• In August, Faiza 'Id Abu Sawawin was shot dead in the Gaza Strip, reportedly by a member of her family, for reasons of "family honour". It could not be confirmed whether the man who killed her was detained.
AI country reports/visits
• Israel/Occupied Territories: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (AI Index: MDE 15/002/2006)
• Israel and the Occupied Territories: Road to nowhere (AI Index: MDE 15/093/2006)
AI delegates visited areas under the jurisdiction of the PA in April, May, June, November and December. In April, they met Prime Minister Haniyeh and other PA government officials and submitted a memorandum detailing AI's concerns and recommending measures to improve human rights in the PA. In December the organization's Secretary General headed a delegation that visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She met the PA President and representatives of the Hamas-led government and expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and increasing lawlessness, and called for an end to impunity in the areas under the PA jurisdiction.