Israeli spies to be executed in Gaza

GAZA: The Islamist Hamas movement, which rules Gaza said today it would soon begin executing people convicted of spying for Israel despite objections from human rights groups.

"The death penalty will be implemented for (Israeli) agents who have been sentenced to death, regardless of the position of rights groups that reject these kinds of sentences," Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad said. "The near future will witness the carrying out of the death sentences," he said in a statement.

The Hamas-run government said the sentences had been handed down in the last two months, with some alleged informers given prison time.

Hamas has approved the death penalty for informers, murderers and drug dealers but has not officially executed anyone since it seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after driving out forces loyal to president Mahmud Abbas.

However, several alleged informers were killed by armed groups during the Gaza war at the turn of last year, according to rights groups.

Last August, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of killing at least 32 political opponents and suspected informers during and after the war, and of maiming dozens of others.

Palestinian law says the president must approve all execution orders before they can be carried out, but Hamas is likely to bypass this as it no longer recognises the legitimacy of Abbas. Israeli security forces routinely use Palestinian informers in the occupied territories, who play a key role in thwarting attacks and assassinating top militants.

Palestinian human rights organisations have condemned the extra-judicial killings and demanded that suspected collaborators be prosecuted in accordance with the law.