GAZA CITY: Gaza gunmen executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel 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.The incident occurred after more than six weeks of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas.
In new violence, at least four Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, while a 4-year-old Israeli boy was killed by Palestinian rocket fire. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed a tough response to the killing.
In all, at least 2,092 Palestinians have been killed since July 8, of whom the U.N. has identified about 70 percent as civilians, and 68 people have died on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers.
Hamas media said the executions signaled the start of a crackdown, under the rallying cry of “choking the necks of the collaborators.”
Militants wearing masks and dressed in black gunned down seven of those condemned, whose faces were covered and hands bound, in front of worshippers emerging from the Omari mosque on Palestine Square, in the first public executions in the enclave since the 1990s.
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. 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.
A further 11 collaborators were killed at an abandoned police station near Gaza City, Hamas security officials said. Two bodies were seen being loaded onto an ambulance before Reuters journalists were told to leave the area.
Hamas said it would not release the names of those killed because it wanted to protect the reputation of their families. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said two of those killed Friday were women. It called for an immediate halt to what it said were “extra-judicial executions.”
The crackdown on suspected collaborators follows the killing of three of Hamas’ most senior military commanders in an Israeli airstrike Thursday. That attack is thought to have been enabled by precise intelligence on the commanders’ whereabouts.
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.
In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel likely relied to some extent on local informers. 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, Israel-Gaza fighting continued for a third day since the collapse of Egyptian-led cease-fire talks earlier this week.
Just before sundown, a mortar shell landed in the Israeli village of Nahal Oz near the Gaza border, killing a 4-year-old boy, rescue officials said. Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister expressed his condolences and vowed that Hamas would pay a “heavy price.”
In Gaza, Israeli forces carried out more than 25 airstrikes in Gaza, killing four people, Palestinian health officials said.
Shortly after Netanyahu’s comments, a powerful airstrike leveled a house in Gaza City, wounding 40 Palestinians, local emergency services said.
Witnesses said a drone fired two rockets at the two-story property before an F16 warplane dropped a large bomb. It was the home of a family that included members of Hamas, witnesses said.
Emergency services told AFP that 40 people from the building and neighboring buildings were wounded in the strike.
Amid the crisis, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar to push Hamas negotiators to return to cease-fire talks, and to encourage Qatar to support Egyptian cease-fire efforts, a Palestinian official said.
Abbas and Meshaal urged the United Nations to draw up a “timetable” for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to end, Qatar state media said.