GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The Hamas government on Thursday executed two men accused of collaborating with Israel, signaling an escalation in the militant Palestinian group's method of controlling the Gaza Strip.
It was the first time the death penalty has been carried out in Gaza since Hamas violently seized power in the coastal area in 2007.
The bullet-riddled bodies of the men, convicted by military tribunals in 2008 and 2009, were dumped by armed men at Gaza City's main hospital before dawn on Thursday, a hospital employee said. A brother of one of the men said both families were summoned to the prison late Wednesday for a visit but were not told of the pending executions.
The killings drew condemnations from human rights groups and were likely to deepen Hamas' international isolation. Human rights groups have criticized the Hamas military tribunals, saying they often rely on confessions obtained through torture.
Bill Van Esveld, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called Thursday's executions a "very severe step backwards" for Hamas.
Three more convicted informers remain on death row in Gaza, along with six murderers. Six other men have been sentenced to death in absentia, according to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights.
In addition, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations accused Hamas gunmen of killing suspected collaborators during the chaos surrounding Israel's Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-2009.
During the war, 17 people were found dead after fleeing a Gaza prison damaged in an Israeli airstrike. Most had been held as suspected collaborators.
Palestinian law allows the death penalty for those convicted of collaborating with Israel and other offenses. Technically, execution orders require a signature by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since taking office in 2005, Abbas has signed such an order once, approving the execution of four convicted murderers in June 2005.
Hamas' takeover of Gaza left Abbas' Western-backed government in control only of the West Bank, and Hamas did not ask for or receive Abbas' approval for Thursday's executions.
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for Abbas' government in the West Bank, said Hamas has made many changes to Gaza's legal system since its violent takeover.
"For us, all its resolutions and activities are illegal and unacceptable," Khatib said, adding that carrying out an execution without Abbas' approval deepens the Palestinian rift.
The executions were announced by Ahmed Atallah, the head of Gaza's military court. In a statement on the Hamas Interior Ministry Web site, Atallah said the two defendants had provided information to Israel and helped with attacks on Gaza militants for several years.
Atallah said Mohammed Ismail, 36, was convicted of planting devices in the cars of militants, presumably to help track them. Nasser Abu Freh, 33, a former Palestinian police captain before the Hamas takeover, allegedly started receiving money to work with Israel in 1998.
A brother of one of the men said both families were summoned by Hamas police for a prison visit late Wednesday but were not told of the pending executions.
He said his family was called back to the prison after daybreak Thursday and was briefly shown the body, covered by a sheet from the nose down. He said the family was not allowed to take the body, but was later informed his brother had been buried in a Gaza cemetery. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.
Israel's Shin Bet security service maintains a network of informers in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Collaborators are often recruited through blackmail, payment or the promise of entry and work permits to Israel.