A Hamas military court sentenced two Gazan drug dealers to death on Sunday, the Gaza interior ministry said.
Until Sunday, only people found guilty of spying for Israel or murder received the death penalty in Gaza, controlled by the Hamas terror group since 2007.
The two men sentenced to death, according to a statement, were caught with thousands of pills of tramadol, an opiate that has swept through Gaza in recent years. The dealers were also in possession of hashish, the ministry said.
“The Gaza military court announced the death penalty for two civilians from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, for selling narcotics,” the Interior Ministry statement said.
One of the men, described as a sergeant in Hamas’s internal security force, was sentenced to death by firing squad. The other man was sentenced to death by hanging.
Another two suspects caught with tramadol, including a police sergeant, were sentenced to three to seven years of hard labor, and fined thousands of Jordanian dinar.
The death sentences were highly publicized by the Interior Ministry, including via a series of tweets that bore an Arab hashtag translating as, “the sentence for trafficking is death.”
— وزارة الداخلية الفلسطينية (@moigovps) March 19, 2017
According to a report by al-Monitor, Hamas has been waging a quiet war against tramadol in recent years, afraid to publicize the fact that a drug epidemic had broken out under its watch.
The publicizing of the death sentences took Hamas’s war against the opiate out into the open.
The Interior Ministry said 400,000 tramadol pills had been seized in the Strip since the beginning of the year, as well as 1,250 packages of hashish.
Authorities have seized drugs with a street value of around $1 million over the past few months, the ministry said.
The ministry blamed Israel for the epidemic, saying it was working to protect “Palestinian society from various dangers through which the Israeli occupation and the enemies of our people target [Palestinian] society.”
What Israel “failed to achieve through war and siege, it will not succeed to do through spreading drugs,” the statement said.
“Anyone who deals drugs, his crime is no less than those who spy for the [Israeli] occupation; their goal is the same: to destroy Palestinian society,” it added.
According to al-Monitor, tramadol enters Gaza through Egypt, not Israel.