Islamic group flouts rights groups, kills two men despite appeals.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Hamas government on Thursday executed two men accused of collaborating with Israel, signaling a sharp escalation in the Palestinian terror group's method of controlling the Gaza Strip.It was the first time the death penalty has been carried out in Gaza since Hamas violently seized power in the coastal area in 2007.The bullet-riddled bodies of the men, convicted by military tribunals in 2008 and 2009, were dumped by armed men at Gaza City's main hospital before dawn on Thursday, a hospital employee said.The executions drew condemnations from human rights groups and were likely to deepen the isolation of Hamas, already shunned by much of the world. Human rights groups have criticized the Hamas military tribunals, saying they often rely on confessions obtained through torture.Bill Van Esveld, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called Thursday's executions a "very severe step backwards" for Hamas.With Thursday's executions, three more convicted informers remain on death row in Gaza, along with six murderers. In addition, six men have been sentenced to death in absentia, according to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights.However, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations accused Hamas gunmen of killing suspected collaborators during the chaos surrounding Israel's Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-2009.AdvertisementDuring the war, 17 people were found dead after fleeing a Gaza prison damaged in an IAF airstrike. Most had been held as suspected collaborators.Palestinian law allows the death penalty for those convicted of collaborating with Israel and other offenses. Courts in Gaza and in the West Bank — ruled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — have handed down death sentences over the years.But since taking office in 2005, Abbas has not signed execution orders, a step required by Palestinian law. No officially sanctioned executions have taken place in Gaza in nearly a decade.Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for Abbas' government in the West Bank, said Hamas made many changes to Gaza's legal system after its violent takeover."For us, all its resolutions and activities are illegal and unacceptable, and this is probably the last example of this," Khatib said, adding that carrying out an execution without Abbas' approval deepens the Palestinian rift.The executions were announced by Ahmed Atallah, the head of Gaza's military court. In a statement on the Interior Ministry Web site, Atallah said the two defendants had provided information to Israel and helped with attacks on Gaza militants for several years.Atallah said Mohammed Ismail, 36, was convicted of planting devices in the cars of militants, presumably to help track them. Nasser Abu Freh, 33, a former Palestinian police captain before the Hamas takeover, allegedly started receiving money to work with Israel in 1998.Collaboration with Israel is considered the highest crime inPalestinian society. In a sign of shame, the two men's families did nothold typical mourning ceremonies for them, instead burying them quietlyin a brief funeral.The executions were the first since 2001,when two collaborators were put to death by firing squad in Gaza duringthe reign of Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat. The then-justiceminister said at the time that the executions were meant as a warningto those thinking of betraying the homeland.Hamas officialshave made a similar argument in recent weeks, saying executions woulddeter spies. Thursday's executions were also seen as a move by Hamas toassert internal control and independence from Abbas.