Hamas executes three men in Gaza Strip
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip executed three men for murder on Tuesday, the attorney general said, signalling more could follow, despite appeals from the United Nations for a halt.
The three men were put to death behind closed doors, despite earlier expectations they would be punished in public.
"To achieve public deterrence and curb crime, the competent authorities carried out at dawn on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, execution rulings against three of those convicted of shocking murders," a statement from the attorney general said.
In theory all execution orders in the Palestinian territories must be approved by President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank.
But Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, no longer recognises his legitimacy, and the attorney general in Gaza, Ismail Jaber, recently announced that the authorities there would carry out the executions without Abbas' backing.
Xavier Abu Eid, an adviser to Abbas, condemned the executions on Twitter.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International also denounced the executions.
“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and its use always violates human rights," said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The deep flaws in the Gaza Strip’s justice system, with repeated reports pointing to the widespread use of torture, make today’s executions particularly egregious. The Hamas authorities must halt any further plans to carry out executions and immediately establish an official moratorium."
The UN envoy to the Middle East, meanwhile, had already called on Hamas to abandon the planned executions.
"I urge Hamas not to carry out these executions," Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council last week.
Mladenov added that public executions were prohibited under international human rights law and that any such killings in the Gaza Strip would be carried out without the approval of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which is required under Palestinian law.
The death penalty can be applied only to the most serious crimes following a judicial process that upholds fair trial standards, the envoy said.
"I have serious doubts as to whether capital trials in Gaza meet these standards," he added.
Human Rights Watch also condemned the use of the death penalty, with its Israel and Palestine director Sari Bashi calling it "particularly egregious to execute defendants sentenced in Gaza, whose court system is rife with coercion, torture and compromised procedures".
The attorney general's statement announcing the executions said they had all been given a fair trial.
"The Hamas authorities have tried to justify these executions as a way to deter crime, but there is no credible evidence that the death penalty has a greater deterrent effect than prison terms. Instead of executing people, the Hamas authorities should change course and start to promote accountability in the Gaza Strip by conducting independent investigations into abuses by their own forces,” Lynch added.