Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 11:21 UK

Hamas 'killing' Palestinian foes

Mobile phone footage thought to show a Hamas punishment beating

Hamas must stop killing and torturing its political rivals in Gaza, Human Rights Watch has said.

At least 32 Palestinians have died and several more have been maimed in such cases during and since Israel's January military assault, the group said.

HRW accuses the Hamas militant group which controls Gaza of targeting people thought to be collaborators with Israel and members of the rival faction Fatah.

Hamas denied its forces were involved in extra-judicial killings.

During the 22-day Israeli operation, "Hamas moved violently against its political opponents and those deemed collaborators with Israeli forces", said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

Eighteen men were were summarily executed, most suspected of collaborating with Israel, during the fighting, HRW said.

In the three months since January, another 14 people were killed, including at least four in detention, the report released on Monday said.

Most of the 18 men killed during the war had escaped from Gaza's main prison after Israeli aircraft bombed the building, and they were subsequently tracked down and shot, the group said.

"The widespread practice of maiming people by shooting them in the legs is of particular concern," the report said.

Between the start of the conflict, on 27 December, and the end of January, 49 people were shot in the legs and 73 Gazan men had their legs and arms broken, the report said.

Hamas dismissals

Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nono, denied the movement's forces were involved in extra-judicial killings but said it was investigating claims that some militant groups had killed suspected collaborators.

Speaking to Reuters news agency, he pointed out 11 Gaza policemen were dismissed last week and will face court martial over the death of a detainee who was held on suspicion of drug dealing.

Human Rights groups have frequently expressed concern over torture and abuses by Hamas in Gaza and by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Both have clamped down on their opponents during a long-running feud.

In the West Bank, a Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament was injured by what he said was a shot fired towards him by PA security forces.

Hamas members were quoted in Palestinian media describing the incident as an "assassination attempt".

The two sides are set to resume Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks aimed at forming a unity government later this week.

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