GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — One day after an intelligence coup enabled Israel to kill three top commanders of Hamas’s armed wing, as many as 18 Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel were fatally shot in public Friday, in what was seen as a warning to the people of the Gaza Strip.
In Israel, a 4-year-old boy was killed by a mortar shell on a kibbutz just outside Gaza on Friday, the third consecutive day of steady barrages fired by Palestinian militants, according to an Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld.
The boy was the first child and the fourth civilian on the Israeli side to be killed in the conflict, which also has left 64 Israeli soldiers dead as well as about 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including more than 460 children.
“Hamas will pay a dear price for this severe terror attack,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement offering condolences to the boy’s family. He said Israeli forces would “intensify their activity against Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza” until the operation’s objective — to restore quiet — had been met.
The Palestinians killed Friday were not identified, but they were reported to have been arrested or convicted of collaboration, a crime punishable by death under Palestinian law, before this summer’s bloody battles between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that dominates Gaza.
Gaza’s Interior Ministry, which handles judicial and security matters, declined to address the reported executions. But a statement published on many Palestinian websites — including some affiliated with Hamas — said a “revolutionary court” had been formed “in agreement with the war’s circumstances.”
Al Majd, a website run by the Internal Security Service of the Hamas government that ran Gaza until June, quoted an unidentified official as saying, “The judiciary procedures and measures were completed against the accused,” and future collaborators would be dealt with in the field, not in courthouses, to create deterrence.
The executions, by masked gunmen, were the most public and numerous since the 47-day-old conflict began. They echoed executions Hamas had carried out during two previous Israeli military operations in Gaza. Palestinian news agencies had reported Thursday that three other suspected collaborators were killed.
The timing of the public executions — after Thursday’s airstrike by Israel that killed the three leaders of Hamas’s armed wing, and after Tuesday night’s attempted assassination of its chief, Mohammed Deif, whose fate remains unknown — suggested that Hamas wanted to send a harsh public message against informing on the locations of militants.
“I think this has provoked, and let’s say triggered, this process,” said Hamdi Shaqqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza group that has long tracked and condemned such extrajudicial killings.
“If you speak to any regular citizen in Gaza, nobody is looking with mercy on these people. Why? Because people are being bombarded,’’ Shaqqura said. “A lot of the blame for bombardment of specific places is being put on collaborators.”
The executions came during renewed violence after Tuesday’s collapse of cease-fire talks in Cairo that had halted hostilities for nine days.
A steady stream of 75 rockets from Gaza soared into Israel on Friday, with sirens sounding as far north as Tel Aviv and several suburbs, Ramat Gan, Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, and Holon. Two men and a woman were wounded by shrapnel when one rocket exploded at a synagogue in the southern city of Ashdod, and another Israeli was hurt by a mortar barrage in Beersheva.
Palestinian officials reported two men killed in the Nusseirat refugee camp Friday morning after an Israeli airstrike.