The Hamas terror group hanged to death three men accused of “collaborating” with Israeli military intelligence in Gaza Thursday, the Hamas-controlled Gaza interior and national security ministry said in a statement.
The executions come amid a hunt by Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, for “collaborators” with Israel after the recent assassination of one of its terror chiefs, Mazen Faqha, which it blames on the Jewish state.
However, according to the ministry, none of the three men killed was involved in Fuqha’s death.
The three were all charged with handing over information about the whereabouts of Hamas men and military sites over the past three decades, which led to the death of Hamas fighters.
One man, 32-year-old A.S., according to the statement, began providing Israeli intelligence with information in 2010, and his “very accurate information” led to the killing of Hamas leaders.
The other two were identified as a 42-year-old and a 55-year-old.
The ministry claimed all three men were executed after being given the right to defend themselves and “according to our Sharia and our true religion, according to Palestinian law, which manifested the right of the homeland and its citizens, and maintained communal security.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, “The abhorrent executions by Hamas authorities of three men in Gaza deemed to be collaborators project weakness, not strength.”
“Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law,” she said.
Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said the executions show “Hamas and Islamic State have different names but the same practices.”
Under Palestinian law, death sentences can be handed out for those collaborating with Israel, murderers and drug traffickers.
But there are stark differences between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
No execution has been carried out in the West Bank since 2002, and only two were carried out there between 1994 and 2002.
Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, 96 death penalties have been handed out, mostly by military courts and often for spying on behalf of Israel, said Hamdi Shaqura of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some, but not all, the death sentences have been carried out.
At least 21 death sentences were handed out in Gaza in 2016 alone. In February this year, Hamas courts handed death sentences to six Gazans accused of collaborating with Israel. In March, Hamas courts, in an unprecedented case, handed down two sentences to men convicted of drug smuggling.
On Monday, the Palestinian news agency al-Majd al-Amani, which is linked to Hamas’s military wing, said a large campaign was already underway to capture “collaborators,” and that a group had already been arrested.
On Tuesday Hamas announced it was “opening the gates of repentance” — i.e., offering clemency — to any “collaborator” who turned himself in the next seven days.
Hamas leaders have been vowing revenge against Israel ever since Fuqha, one of its chiefs, was shot dead on March 25 near his home in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, with a silencer-equipped weapon. He sustained four bullet wounds to the head during an ambush in his underground parking garage, reports in Gaza said.
Israel has not acknowledged any involvement in the assassination of Faqha, and on Sunday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intimated it was an inside job.
“Hamas is known for its internal assassinations — let them look there,” he said.
Abu Obeida, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, quickly rejected Liberman’s insinuation.
“We affirm that no one is responsible for the crime apart from the Zionist enemy, and it will not succeed in any of its declared or hidden attempts to disclaim or to shuffle the cards,” he said.
Faqha, 38, originally from the West Bank, had received nine life sentences for planning a 2002 suicide bombing in Israel in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded.
He was freed as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange for captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and deported to Gaza. He was believed to have been responsible for recent Hamas terror cells in the West Bank.
AFP contributed to this report.