Friday, 7 October. 2022
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Hamas has mounted a desperate damage-limitation exercise after one of its units shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian woman for "immoral behaviour" as she enjoyed a day out with her future husband.

Angry residents of Beit Lahia, close to Gaza City, have demanded - so far in vain - that the Islamic armed faction hands over three of the gunmen still at large to the Palestinian Authority after what the victim's family believes was a tragically unjustified type of "honour killing".

The masked Hamas gunmen shot dead Yusra Azzami as she sat in the front passenger seat of her fiancé's Mitsubishi after they had forced it to stop. They went on to beat up her fiancé, Ziad Zaranda, and his brother, Rami, before escaping in the victims' car. Yusra's terrified sister, Magdalen, who was engaged to Rami, ran away before she too was beaten.

Two senior officials from Hamas, which has admitted that members of the faction killed the woman, were turned away by her grief-stricken family this week when they visited to present their condolences. Both sisters and brothers were to be married this Friday in a joint ceremony.

The killing casts a spotlight on the chronic - and in the view of some residents deteriorating - weakness of law and order in the Strip. But it may also have a seriously adverse effect on Hamas's campaign in a series of municipal elections in Gaza next month, including in Beit Lahia itself.

A Hamas spokesman said the woman was shot because there was a mistaken "suspicion of immoral behaviour" by the couples. But it was not clear yesterday whether inter-factional rivalry had also played a part since Yusra Azzami was a Hamas member at the Islamic university while her fiancé was in Fatah.

Other factions have been quick to condemn the killing, and gunfire was exchanged between Hamas and Fatah at the victim's funeral last Saturday. Hamas also provoked outrage among some residents by claiming her as one of its "martyrs". The faction, which seeks to enforce the strictest Islamic codes on alcohol consumption and pre-marital contact, has issued leaflets in the town saying the killing was a mistake, promising to punish the culprits and that its members will abide by "the law of God".

Both couples had exchanged married certificates after their betrothal. Although they were not yet living together, they were married according to Islamic law. Leaflets produced by angry locals named three of the five member gang - two of whom were arrested as they tried to escape - as members of the Daghmesh family, one of the most powerful in Gaza, and demanded that they be handed over for trial and punishment.

The Azzami and Zaranda families said the engaged couples had spent the afternoon shopping for the women's wedding dresses and then boughtshwarma (takeaway meat sandwiches). Because the weather was warm, the couples went to the beach and ate their sandwiches by the sea.

Rami had then decide to withdraw some cash from an ATM in the city before they headed for home in the Mitsubishi at around 9pm. They realised that they were being followed by two cars, one of which a Subaru. It suddenly overtook their car and forced it to stop.

Ziad Zaranda, 25, said: "Five men got out and started firing their guns at us. They shot about nine bullets at us. Two went through the window and one of these hit Yusra in the head." He said that as his fiancée slumped in the front passenger seat, fatally wounded, the men beat the two brothers with clubs.

The men then dragged Yusra's bleeding body from the car and made their escape in the Mitsubishi. Bystanders took the victims to the city's Shifa hospital where Yusra died half an hour later. Ziad required 18 stitches and Riad 27.

Yusra's sister, Magdalen, 17, said she had run away to her nearby house shouting "My sister, My sister" because she thought she too was being beaten. Magdalen said she did not know if they had been watched as they walked by the sea. "Rami was trying to touch my hand but I was saying 'let me eat my sandwich'. Even if were not married Hamas does not have the authority to act like this." The Zaranda family was sceptical about whether "morality" was the motive saying that the stolen vehicle had Palestinian Authority markings and that it might have been an attempt to blame Fatah for mounting chaos in Gaza.

Ziad said: "Hamas is worse than Israel, worse than Sharon."

Mushira Masri, a Hamas spokesman, said last night that the gunmen had not known the couples were betrothed. "The brothers who did this made a mistake. There was suspicion of immoral behaviour."

Asked if they gunmen who fled were going to be handed over to the PA, he said: "If the families want to han d them over to the PA they can do that." He added: "Palestinian law allows crimes to happen like adultery and wine drinking. There have been recent increases in these crimes and no one is punished."

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