GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas said Thursday it put to death three men it had accused of killing a senior member of the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza in March.
Hamas’ Interior Ministry told reporters that two men were hanged and one was killed by firing squad Thursday. The three received death sentences Sunday after a brief, week-long special military court found them guilty of killing Mazen Faqha. Local rights groups slammed the trial, calling it unprecedented given its speed.
The executions took place at a police headquarters and was attended by hundreds of people, including Hamas officials and community leaders.
The death of Faqha, a shadowy senior figure in Hamas’ military wing, shocked Hamas, which has ruled Gaza with an iron fist for the past decade.
Faqha, 38, was killed in the garage of his apartment building on March 24, shortly after he had dropped off his family. Hamas said the killer used a weapon with a silencer, allowing him to escape undetected before Faqha’s body was discovered an hour later.
Hamas immediately accused Israel of killing him through collaborators and launched a manhunt.
Israel had sentenced Faqha to nine terms of life imprisonment for directing deadly suicide bombing attacks. He was freed along with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier in 2011.
Hamas has put to death 25 people sentenced under its judicial system since 2007 when it took over Gaza in bloody street battles from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas also killed 23 people without trials during its 2014 war with Israel.
Rights groups have questioned the fairness of trials under the Hamas system.
Human Rights Watch condemned the executions in a statement.
“Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests and airing videoed confessions smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said.
“Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee’s rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court’s verdicts. Death as government-sanctioned punishment is inherently cruel and always wrong, no matter the circumstance.”
After Faqha’s killing, Hamas set up checkpoints throughout Gaza and barred all residents and foreign aid workers from leaving the coastal strip and going to Israel.
It has since eased some of the restrictions.