GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Masked executioners in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Wednesday hanged a man who was convicted of stabbing to death an acquaintance over money, ignoring protests by human rights activists who say the territory’s legal system is flawed.

Hani Abu Aliyan, 28, was executed in a security compound in the presence of relatives of the victim, a first for a criminal case in Gaza. Previously, only security officials had witnessed executions.

At Wednesday’s execution, the 17th since Hamas overran Gaza six years ago, four masked security men escorted Abu Aliyan to a noose erected on a small platform surrounded by black plastic tarps. Abu Aliyan wore a hood, spoke to a cleric and uttered a Muslim prayer before he was hanged, a witness said.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry released pictures of the executioners and rows of armed security men, also masked, standing on the sides.

The family of the victim was informed of the impending execution late Tuesday, but only given details about the time and place shortly before it took place.

“They searched us and took our phones before escorting us to the area where the makeshift hanging stage was built,” a relative of the victim said. “They brought him in surrounded by security. He talked to the sheik before they took him for the hanging. After a few minutes, a doctor confirmed his death.”

The relative said it was difficult watching someone lose his life. “Then I told myself its divine justice. God is avenging the victims.”

Both witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because Hamas ordered those in attendance not to talk to the media.

Human rights groups had called on Hamas to halt all executions, saying Gaza’s justice system is badly tainted, including by forced confessions.

Gaza’s attorney general, Ismail Jaber, said the law was respected throughout Abu Aliyan’s case, including an appeal. He said the executions were not meant to become public spectacles like the stonings and beheadings that are common in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Abu Aliyan was convicted of two killings, including sexually assaulting and bludgeoning to death a boy when he himself was only 14.

The case against Abu Aliyan began in 2009, when he turned himself in to police after allegedly stabbing to death an acquaintance during a financial dispute. His lawyer had claimed Abu Aliyan was abused during interrogation and confessed to the earlier killing after being tortured.

Executions have aroused little public opposition in conservative Gaza, where tribal customs and Islamic religious law, or Shariah, call for putting to death convicted killers.

Hamas seized Gaza in 2007 and has firmly entrenched its hold on the territory, home to about 1.7 million people. The Hamas-run justice system and past executions have been criticized by human rights groups.

According to an Associated Press count, it was the 30th death sentence carried out by Palestinian authorities since 1994. Of those, 28 took place in the Gaza Strip.

The rival Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank has not carried out the death penalty since President Mahmoud Abbas took office in 2005.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.