Mohammed Ballas, Associated Press
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza gunmen killed 18 alleged spies for Israel on Friday, including seven who were lined up behind a mosque and shot after midday prayers, in response to Israel's deadly airstrikes against top Hamas military commanders.
Hamas media portrayed the killings as the beginning of a new crackdown, under the rallying cry of "choking the necks of the collaborators." It was the largest number of suspected informers killed by Hamas in a single day since it seized Gaza by force in 2007.
The Al Majd website, which is close to the Hamas security services, said suspects would now be dealt with "in the field" rather than in the courts in order to create deterrence.
Hamas said it would not release the names of those killed because it wanted to protect the reputation of their families. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said two of those killed Friday were women. It called for an immediate halt to what it said were "extra-judicial executions."
The killings came a day after an Israeli airstrike on a house in southern Gaza killed three senior military leaders of Hamas. The three had played a key role in expanding Hamas' military capabilities, including building a network of attack tunnels into Israel and smuggling weapons.
Earlier in the week, another strike killed the wife and two children of Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of the Hamas military wing. Deif's fate remains unclear.
Friday's events began with the shooting of 11 alleged informants at the Gaza City police headquarters in the morning. Of the 11, two were women, the Palestinian rights center said.
Later in the day, seven people were killed outside the city's downtown al-Omari mosque as worshippers wrapped up noon prayers. Several dozen people were outside the mosque at the time, said one of the witnesses, 42-year-old Ayman Sharif.
Another witness said the faces of the seven had been covered. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid for his own safety.
Sharif said masked gunmen lined up seven people against a wall. A piece of paper was affixed above the head of each of them, with his initials and his alleged crime.
Sharif quoted one of the gunmen as saying the seven "had sold their souls to the enemy for a cheap price" and had caused killing and destruction.
The commander of the group then gave the order to the others to open fire with their automatic rifles. He said the bodies were collected by an ambulance and the gunmen left.
Friday's killing marked the third time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war six weeks ago that Hamas announced the killing of alleged collaborators. On Thursday, Al Majd said seven people were arrested on suspicion of working with Israel and that three of them were killed.
In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel likely relied to some extent on local informers. Israel has maintained a network of informers despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, at times using blackmail or the lure of exit permits to win cooperation.
Meanwhile, Israel-Gaza fighting continued for a third day since the collapse of Egyptian-led cease-fire talks earlier this week.
By early afternoon, Gaza militants had fired at least 56 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, while Israel carried out at least 28 airstrikes in Gaza, the military said.
One of the strikes hit a livestock farm where two workers were killed and three people were wounded, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. The Israeli military said its strikes targeted concealed rocket launchers and weapons sites.
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