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Gaza legislators approve implementation of death sentences

May 25, 2016 3:56 P.M. (Updated: May 26, 2016 2:58 P.M.)
Hamas security forces in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams, File)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- The Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza approved on Wednesday the enforcement of death sentences.

In a statement received by Ma’an, the Gaza-based legislators said that “a decision has been taken to consider death sentences obligatory after all possible appeals against them are completed.”

This ratification of the death penalty law paves the way for the execution of at least a dozen Palestinians who have been sentenced to death in the besieged Gaza Strip.

On May 17, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced that 13 Palestinians had been sentenced to death by Gaza courts and would be executed as soon as possible.

Haniyeh said at the time that “the state of security reached in Gaza won’t ever be given up because of the huge efforts and levels of cooperation needed to reach that state.”

Haniyeh argued that some believe that they could “escape punishment and return to chaos” in the absence of a Palestinian consensus government needed to approve death sentences.

The spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said the UN was “deeply concerned” about the move to implement death sentences in the blockaded Palestinian territory.

“Death sentences may only be carried out in extremely limited circumstances, and pursuant to a trial and appeals that scrupulously follow fair trial standards. We have serious doubts as to whether capital trials in Gaza meet these standards.,” Colville said in a statement.

“Media reports indicating that the sentences could be carried out in public also raise alarm, as this is a practice which is prohibited under international human rights law,” he added.

Under Palestinian law, wilful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death.

According to the law, capital punishment may only be carried out with the approval of the Palestinian president.

Although death sentences had not been put into application in the Gaza Strip since a national unity government was formed in June 2014, Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades executed a man in February for what the militant group described as "behavioral and moral misconducts,” drawing severe condemnation from the Palestine Liberation Organization.

As the Hamas movement broke from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and does not recognize the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip sidestep the president's consent on cases of capital punishment.

While Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and the Palestinian Authority rules in the occupied West Bank, the death penalty is carried out by both parties in both territories.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), at least 173 death sentences have been issued in Palestinian territory since 1994 as of January, 145 of them in the Gaza Strip. Among the sentences in Gaza, at least 85 have been issued since 2007, when Hamas took over power.

Rights groups and international bodies have criticized Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip for implementing capital punishment without due process.

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