Palestinian teen recruit dies from gunshot wound in Gaza

Adham Mahmoud Mohammad Al-Masri, 17, died after a suspected “friendly fire” incident on May 3 in Jabalia, North Gaza. (Photo: Courtesy of the Al-Masri family)

Ramallah, May 7, 2020—A Palestinian teen died from a gunshot wound late Sunday night while stationed at a Palestinian armed group reconnaissance site in northern Gaza.

Adham Mahmoud Mohammad Al-Masri, 17, sustained a gunshot wound to his chest around 11:30 pm on May 3 while stationed at an Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades reconnaissance site located in Jabalia, North Gaza, according to documentation collected by DCIP. He was transferred to the Indonesian Hospital near Jabalia after midnight and was pronounced dead around 12:15 am on May 4. 

The circumstances surrounding Adham’s death remain unclear, though information collected by DCIP suggests an accidental death. The bullet that struck Adham was likely discharged from the weapon of another armed group member stationed at the reconnaissance site, indicating his death was caused by “friendly fire.” His family informed DCIP that Al-Qassam Brigades has opened an investigation into the incident.

“Palestinian armed groups must not recruit or enlist children in any capacity,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “The de-facto Hamas government must conduct a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into this incident and release the findings. If there was wrongdoing, the perpetrator must be held accountable.”

Adham left home around 5:30 pm on May 3 to begin his shift at the reconnaissance site, according to family members interviewed by DCIP. His family received a telephone call from members of Al-Qassam Brigades around 11:30 pm, informing them Adham had been shot with live ammunition and was seriously injured. Adham’s family immediately went to the Indonesian Hospital where they found his body in the morgue.

The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, or Al-Qassam Brigades, is the military wing of the de-facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and is considered an armed group under international humanitarian law.

Adham joined the Al-Qassam Brigades around four months ago after obtaining his father’s consent, according to family members interviewed by DCIP. Until then, Al-Qassam Brigades had refused his previous attempts to enlist with the armed group, due to his age. He would have turned 18 years old on October 27, 2020.

Generally, the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is prohibited by international law. Child recruitment refers to the practice by armed forces or groups of recruiting or using any person below 18 years of age, in any capacity, according to the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Groups. Child recruitment includes both direct roles in armed combat and indirect roles, such as cooks or informants.

Under international humanitarian law, the minimum age for compulsory recruitment or involvement in hostilities is 15 years. This applies to both governmental and non-governmental actors, in both international and non-international armed conflict. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or armed groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities to be a war crime.

Under international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), the age of compulsory recruitment is 18 years old. While voluntary recruitment is allowed into national armed forces for children ages 16 and 17, the state, at a minimum, must ensure that such recruitment is genuinely voluntary and carried out with the informed consent of the child’s parents or legal guardians. Importantly, armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a state should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use any person under 18 in hostilities.

In 2010, following a workshop on child recruitment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, DCIP drafted a written code of conduct relating to the involvement of children in armed conflict for Palestinian political factions to commit to. On May 4, 2010, the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces signed the code, including Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and others.

Due to the sensitive nature of the issue within Palestinian society, there are significant challenges and obstacles in collecting detailed information to ascertain the scale of child recruitment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. However, information collected by DCIP suggests child recruitment by Palestinian armed groups has reduced substantially since 2008 and 2009. DCIP documented at least 34 children killed while actively involved in hostilities during 2008 and 2009. The most recent UN-verified data shows three incidents of recruitment and use by Palestinian armed groups involving three 17-year-old Palestinian boys in 2018.

The ongoing human-made humanitarian crisis in Gaza—fueled by Israel’s nearly 13-year closure and frequent military offensives and incursions—keeps children vulnerable to recruitment and other forms of child labor.

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