Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip have arrested a group of suspects accused of being Israeli agents, media close to Hamas’s military reported on Monday.
“Hamas internal security forces are currently undertaking a large campaign to pursue Israeli agents, during which a group has been arrested and others are being pursued,” the Palestinian news site al-Majd, which is linked to Hamas’s Izz-a-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing, wrote.
The arrests came after Hamas declared Sunday that it would crack down on “collaborators” with Israel over the recent assassination of one of its terror chiefs, Mazen Fuqha, which it blames on Israel.
“The gates of repentance are open before [Israeli] agents, and to repeat anyone who hands themselves in will be under protection and will receive a lenient punishment,” a Hamas security source told al-Majd.
In the Hamas-controlled Strip, an arrest for purported collaboration with Israel means an almost-certain death sentence.
Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, 96 death penalties have been handed down, mostly by military courts and often for spying on behalf of Israel, said Hamdi Shaqura of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Many, but not all, of the death sentences have been carried out.
At least 21 death sentences were handed down in Gaza in 2016 alone.
Faqha 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.
Hamas leaders have been vowing revenge against Israel ever since.
Israel has not acknowledged any involvement in the assassination, 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.
In a speech broadcast at a memorial service for Faqha in Gaza last week, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said that “If Israel decided to change the rules of the game, we accept the challenge.
“The Zionist occupier took from us a great hero and for this we will not sit quietly,” he added.
AFP contributed to this report.