Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, said Sunday that it has killed one of its own commanders over unnamed "moral and behavioral violations."
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Hamas said in a short Twitter statement that Mahmoud Eshtewi, a local member of the group's military wing, was killed after he confessed. It said the decision to kill Eshtewi, who was detained in January 2015, was taken by its "military and religious judiciary," a previously unheard-of department.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. During periods of fighting against Israel, Hamas has killed dozens of Palestinians it accused of spying.
The group is not known to have killed its own members during peacetime, and the vague language used in the statement indicated Eshtewi was killed for reasons other than spying.
"We are shocked," his sister, Buthaina, screamed over the phone. "He can't be executed based on the reasons they provide."
She said Hamas officials had met the family in the morning and told them that they were considering his release. "They tricked us," she said.
Eshtewi's relatives said they had only been allowed to visit him three times during the year he was detained. They said he was not found guilty of spying, without elaborating.
Human Rights Watch said it was following Eshtewi's case "with concern" after his family told the New York-based group that he was arrested and tortured for criticizing more senior Hamas commanders.
Sari Bashi, HRW's Israel-Palestine director, said the rights group was unable to visit him, but that his family's claims were "consistent with persistent and credible reports that Hamas security forces have been arresting and torturing those who express criticism."
Bashi urged Hamas to investigate and "rein in security forces to prevent future killings from taking place."