Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it executed three Palestinians on Thursday for alleged collaboration with Israel, stoking tensions after the killing of one of its commanders nearly two weeks ago.
A statement from the Hamas Interior Ministry said the three had been convicted of treason and conspiracy with a hostile foreign power. The ministry said authorities hanged the convicts before a gathering of Palestinian dignitaries and Gaza “elites.”
Human rights groups condemned the executions, with Amnesty International calling them an “outrage.”
Hamas didn’t release the identities of the executed but gave their ages as 52, 42 and 31. “They are convicted of communicating and collaborating with the enemy,’’ the statement said.
Gaza has been on edge since two weeks ago, when Mazen Faqha, a leading officer in its military wing, was shot to death outside his Gaza City home by gunmen who used silencers. It was the first time in years that such a prominent member of the organization had been killed from inside Gaza.
Faqha had been serving consecutive life sentences in Israel for involvement in a suicide attack, but was released as part of a prisoner swap in 2011.
The militant group blamed Israel for the killing, and it threatened to take revenge against Israeli security chiefs. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing.
Hamas also embarked on a crackdown inside Gaza, a blockaded coastal enclave of 2 million Palestinians. In an attempt to locate suspects, the organization shut down access to its sole pedestrian crossing with Israel for more than a week and banned Gaza fishermen from taking their boats out to sea. It also instituted a week-long program to encourage Palestinians to confess to collaborating with Israel in return for clemency.
The three executed on Thursday were not convicted of involvement in the killing of Faqha, Hamas said.
“Hamas and the Gaza public has been shocked by the killing of Faqha,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza. The executions “send a crystal-clear message that if you collaborate with Israel, this is what you are going to get.”
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights condemned the executions, issuing a statement that described them as “extrajudicial,” despite Hamas’ reference to a conviction. The statement said that “fighting treason and achieving security will not occur by violating the law.”
The executions on Thursday were the first carried out by Hamas since May 2016. Since the Islamist militants took over Gaza in 2007, they have executed 25 Palestinians. The organization was also accused of executing Gazans during the 2014 war with Israel.
Amnesty International said the killings by Hamas “represent a bitter blow for human rights.”
“The fact that these three civilian men were condemned to death after being convicted in unfair proceedings in military courts makes their executions all the more outrageous,” the organization said in a statement.
Special correspondent Abualouf reported from Gaza City and Mitnick from Tel Aviv