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Israeli images showing Palestinian detainees in underwear spark outrage

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) -Palestinian, Arab and Muslim officials condemned Israel on Friday after images of detained Palestinian men stripped to their underwear in Gaza circulated on social media.

Senior official of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group, Izzat El-Reshiq, accused Israel of "carrying a "heinous crime against innocent civilians."

Reshiq, who is in exile abroad, urged international human rights organisations to intervene to show what happened to the men and help secure their release.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was concerned by the images and that all detainees must be treated with humanity and dignity in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, whose country backs Hamas, also criticised Israel, accusing it on X of "barbarity in the treatment of innocent captives and citizens".

Israeli TV on Thursday showed footage, which Reuters has verified, of what it said were captured Hamas fighters, stripped to their underwear with heads bowed sitting in a Gaza City street.

"We are talking about individuals who are apprehended in Jabalia and Shejaia (in Gaza city), Hamas strongholds and centres of gravity," Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy told a briefing when asked about the images.

"We are talking about military-age men who were discovered in areas that civilians were supposed to have evacuated weeks ago."

Israeli's military has been telling civilians to leave areas where it plans to operate after launching its campaign to eliminate Hamas in Gaza following the Islamist militant group's Oct. 7 killing spree in Israel.

One photo showed more than 20 male detainees kneeling on the pavement or in the street, with Israeli soldiers looking on and dozens of shoes and sandals abandoned in the road. A similar number of detainees, also semi-naked, were crammed into the back of a truck nearby.

Some Palestinians said they recognised relatives in the images and denied they had links to Hamas or any other group. Some, they said, were boys or youths.

Reshiq said the detainees had been captured at a school in Gaza that was being used as a shelter after weeks of Israeli bombardments that have displaced many Gazans.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi, speaking at an news conference ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said doctors and journalists were among the men captured and "humiliated."

APPEAL TO HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS

Hamas held Israeli forces responsible for the lives and safety of the detained men, Reshiq added.

"And we urge human rights organizations to immediately intervene to expose this heinous crime against innocent civilians taking refuge in a school, which had turned into a shelter because of Zionist aggression and massacres, and to put pressure by all means to secure their release," he said.

The London-based Arabic language news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said one of the men detained was its correspondent Diaa Kahlout. It urged the international community and rights groups to denounce the arrest of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for his release.

Some Palestinians identified the place where the men were captured as the northeastern town of Beit Lahia, an area that Israel had warned civilians to leave and has been encircled and besieged by Israeli tanks for weeks. Reuters confirmed the location was Beit Lahia.

Hani Almadhoun, a Palestinian American based in Virginia, said he saw relatives in one image including his 12-year-old nephew, and that they had no links to Hamas or other factions.

Later on Friday, Almadhoun told Reuters Israeli forces released 12 of his relatives and in-laws, after detaining and interrogating them for 12 hours at a site within Beit Lahiya town. Hamas-run government media office also confirmed Israel freed some of those it detained but it was unclear how many remained in its custody.

"We strongly emphasize the importance of treating all those detained with humanity and dignity, in accordance with international humanitarian law," Jessica Moussan, ICRC Media Relations Advisor, Middle East, said in a statement.

Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission in London, said on X the images evoked "some of humanity’s darkest passages of history." Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said on X the incident was "blatant attempt at the humiliation & degradation of Palestinian men...stripped & displayed like war trophies".

(Additional reporting by Reuters reporters in Beirut and Jerusalem and Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay in Washington; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Angus MacSwan, Mark Heinrich and Diane Craft)