Hamas executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, a day after military strikes by the Jewish state killed three top commanders in the Gaza-based Islamist militant group.
And in an attack yesterday that threatens to escalate air raids on the coastal strip, a mortar fired from Gaza later killed a four-year-old Israeli boy, creating another impediment for Egyptian efforts to mediate a new truce in the conflict.
Hamas’s execution of people it accused of aiding the Israelis followed a vow by Israel’s defense minister to hunt down more militant leaders. Israeli airstrikes Aug. 21 successfully targeted three senior members of the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. The group’s fighters have killed more soldiers in the past six weeks than in any of Israel’s military conflicts since the 2006 war in Lebanon.
The 18 Palestinians were shot “after an investigation of several days was completed and they confessed they had collaborated with Israel,” pro-Hamas news service al-Rai said. Al-Majd security website, run by the Gaza Interior Ministry, said the killings were part of a new campaign: “There will be no mercy for collaborators who are caught,” the website said.
Eleven of the accused informants were shot by firing squad in downtown Gaza near police headquarters. Seven more were killed at the al-Omari mosque at noon, according to al-Rai.
The strikes against Hamas’s leadership triggered volleys of rockets against Israel and a wave of Israeli aerial attacks on the Palestinian territory.
Four Israelis were injured, one critically, in a rocket attack on the Israeli community of Gan Yavne, police said in a text message.
The resurgent violence threatens to overwhelm Egyptian efforts to halt six weeks of hostilities in the Gaza strip. At least 2,090 Palestinians have died, according to Gaza officials, and 68 on the Israeli side. The last in a series of Egypt-brokered truces unraveled Aug. 19.
Among yesterday’s casualties was the Israeli child killed by a shell that landed near a kindergarten in a community close to the Gaza border, the Israeli army said in a text message. He was the fourth civilian casualty in Israel since the conflict began six weeks ago, with most Gaza rockets landing in open areas or intercepted by the Iron Dome antimissile system.
The Hamas commanders killed by Israel include Raed Attar, who Israel said masterminded a network of infiltration tunnels and the 2006 capture of soldier Gilad Shalit, held for five years before Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for his release.
Mohammed Abu Shamala, Hamas military operations chief in southern Gaza, and Mohammed Barhoum, a Hamas weapons smuggler and fundraiser, were also killed, Israel’s military said.
The strikes also included an apparent failed attempt to kill Mohammed Deif, Hamas’s top military chief. According to former Mossad intelligence service director Shabtai Shavit, the policy seeks to trip up Hamas, which rules Gaza, and force them to make mistakes.
“Eliminating the leadership damages their ability to fight effectively,” Shavit, who led Mossad from 1989 to 1996, said in a phone interview. “It takes time for their replacements to know their new jobs. It also intimidates and makes them spend a bigger chunk of their time making sure they’re not killed as well.”
Israeli forces “will continue to hunt down and attack Hamas leaders at any time and wherever they may be,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Aug. 21.
Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Human-rights organizations including Amnesty International have condemned Israel’s policy of targeting militant leaders as extrajudicial executions.
“Killing our leaders won’t weaken us,” the Al-Qassam Brigades said in a message distributed to reporters in the Gaza Strip. “The enemy will pay a very heavy price for this crime.”
Israel withdrew forces from a Gaza ground offensive on Aug. 5 under one of several truces that have since collapsed.
The Egypt-mediated talks had aimed at reaching a lasting accord addressing disputes unresolved by pacts ending two previous conflicts. Hamas has demanded an end to the blockade that Israel, citing security considerations, initiated after the group won Palestinian elections in 2006. Israel has sought assurances that militants won’t resume their rocket attacks and cross-border raids.