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The Hamas government in Gaza is expected to order that Palestinians sentenced to death be executed soon, based on comments made in late March by the Hamas interior minister and attorney general.

These people include Palestinians convicted of treason or murder. Eight people convicted of collaborating with Israel are the first slated to be executed.

Eight Fatah figures have also been sentenced to death in Gaza, seven of them in absentia.

The interior minister of the Hamas government, Fathi Hammad, said in a March 24 interview that Gazans sentenced to death for collaborating with Israel would be executed in the near future, despite the protests of human rights organizations.

Several days later the Hamas attorney general, Mohammed Abed, said his office had begun approving execution orders two months earlier. Abed said drug traffickers may also face the death penalty.

Palestinian and international human rights groups have cited several main arguments against executing convicts - opposition in principle, the fact that many underwent dubious legal proceedings without proper representation, and the Palestinian basic law, which states executions may be performed only with the approval of the Palestinian president.

Since November 2008 the Hamas regime has regularly stated it intends to resume prisoner executions, and the recent remarks by the two senior officials indicate the preparatory process has greatly advanced.

Should the executions be carried out, the death penalty - effectively frozen since mid-2005 - would join a long list of measures the Gaza-based government has taken to repress and intimidate the population.

A number of advocacy groups, including the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, issued urgent calls to the Hamas leadership last week, asking it not to carry out the executions.

Since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Palestinian courts have handed down approximately 80 death sentences, of which various 9 to 12 were carried out, according to various sources. Since the end of 2005, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not authorized a single execution.

The Hamas government in Gaza does not recognize Abbas' authority, which it maintains became invalid in January 2009. Since then, 18 death sentences have been handed down in Gaza - all but two in military courts. In the West Bank, three death sentences were ordered by military courts.

Military courts in both Gaza and the West Bank adhere to the Palestine Liberation Organization's Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, which the Palestinian Legislative Council does not accept. Civilian courts employing the death penalty in Gaza cite a 1936 British Mandate law allowing executions, and in the West Bank, courts cite a similar Jordanian law from the 1960s.