x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Hamas shoots 18 suspected spies after killing of leaders

Islamist group said it was 'choking the necks of collaborators' a day after three senior commanders were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Hamas militants grab Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, before executing them outside a mosque in Gaza City on August 22, 2014.  Reuters
Hamas militants grab Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, before executing them outside a mosque in Gaza City on August 22, 2014. Reuters

GAZA CITY // Gaza gunmen killed 18 alleged spies for Israel on Friday, including seven who were lined up behind a mosque with bags over their heads and shot in front of hundreds of people.

The killings came in response to Israel’s deadly airstrike against three top Hamas military commanders.

Hamas said Friday’s shootings signalled the start of a crackdown, under the rallying cry of “choking the necks of the collaborators”. It was the largest number of suspected informers killed by Hamas in a single day since it seized Gaza by force in 2007.

The Al Majd website, which is close to the Hamas security services, said suspects would now be dealt with “in the field” rather than in the courts in order to create deterrence.

Hamas said it would not release the names of those killed because it wanted to protect the reputation of their families.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said two of those killed on Friday were women, and called for an immediate halt to “extrajudicial executions”.

The killings came a day after an Israeli airstrike on a house in southern Gaza killed three senior military leaders of Hamas. The three had played a key role in expanding Hamas’s military capabilities, including building a network of attack tunnels into Israel and smuggling weapons.

Earlier in the week, another strike killed the wife and two children of Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of the Hamas military wing. Deif’s fate remains unclear.

Friday’s events began with the shooting of 11 alleged informants at the Gaza City police headquarters in the morning. Of the 11, two were women, the Palestinian rights centre said.

Those executions were followed by the shooting of seven people outside the city’s Al Omari mosque after noon prayers.

Masked, black-clad gunmen leding several men with bags over their heads to a wall.

Witness Ayman Sharif, 42, said a piece of paper was affixed to the wall above the head of each of the seven, with his initials and his alleged crime.

Mr Sharif quoted one of the gunmen as saying the seven “had sold their souls to the enemy for a cheap price” and had caused killing and destruction.

The commander of the group then ordered the others to open fire with their automatic rifles. The bodies were collected by an ambulance and the gunmen left, Mr Sharif said.

Friday’s killing marked the third time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war six weeks ago that Hamas announced the killing of alleged collaborators. On Thursday, Al Majd said seven people were arrested on suspicion of working with Israel and that three of them were killed.

Israel has maintained a network of informers despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, at times using blackmail or the lure of exit permits to win cooperation.

Meanwhile, a four year-old boy was killed in a rocket attack on Israel as fighting continued for a third day since the collapse of Egyptian-led ceasefire talks earlier this week.

The Israeli military said the boy was killed when shell landed near a kindergarten in a community close to the border.

It said Gaza militants had fired at least 56 rockets and mortar shells at Israel by early afternoon, while Israel carried out at least 28 airstrikes in Gaza.

One of the Israeli strikes hit a livestock farm where two workers were killed and three people were wounded, said Gaza health official Ashraf Al Qedra. The Israeli military said its strikes targeted concealed rocket launchers and weapons sites.

Several civilians were wounded in rocket attacks on Israel. One civilian was moderately wounded by a rocket in the southern city of Beersheba and another was lightly hurt by a rocket that landed in the border town of Sderot. In the city of Ashdod, a rocket hit a synagogue and three people were lightly hurt by shattered glass.

Since the latest Gaza war erupted on July 8, at least 2,091 Palestinians have been killed in the coastal territory, Mr Al Qedra said.

Nearly a quarter of the dead – 469 – are children, according to a Unicef field officer in Gaza, Pernilla Ironside. Unicef says nearly one-third of the more than 10,500 Palestinians wounded are children, while about 100,000 Gazans have been left homeless.

On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed in the past six weeks, including 64 soldiers, three civilians and a Thai worker.

The renewed fighting dashed hopes for a lasting truce. Earlier this week, Hamas rejected an Egyptian truce proposal under which Israel would gradually ease its blockade of Gaza, without giving specific commitments.

Hamas demands a lifting of the border closure imposed by Israel and Egypt after the militant group’s takeover of the coastal strip in 2007.

A quick resumption of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo also seems unlikely, particularly after the killing of the three Hamas commanders. Senior Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said late on Thursday that his group would not budge from its demands.

“We will not accept anything less than an end to the [Israeli] aggression and an end to the blockade,” Mr Haniyeh said in a statement posted online by Hamas-run news service Al Rai.

Israel says the Gaza blockade is needed to prevent Hamas and other militant groups from getting weapons. The restrictions prevent most Gazans from travelling outside the crowded coastal strip and bar most exports.

Despite the crisis, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Qatar to push Hamas negotiators to return to ceasefire talks, and to encourage Qatar to support Egyptian ceasefire efforts, a Palestinian official said.

Mr Abbas flew to Egypt on Friday to meet Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss ceasefire efforts, the official added. He will also meet the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, during his three-day visit to Egypt.

* Associated Press