21 Aug 2014

Israeli air strike kills three Hamas commanders in Gaza

Thousands attend the funeral of three senior Hamas military commanders killed in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli air strike killed three senior Hamas commanders in Gaza on Thursday, a clear sign of its intention to hit the group’s armed leadership days after a ceasefire failed.

Hamas, which dominates Gaza, named the men as Mohammed Abu Shammala, Raed al-Attar and Mohammed Barhoum, the three highest-ranking casualties it has announced since Israel started its offensive six weeks ago.

Killed in the bombing of a house in the southern town of Rafah, all three had led operations against Israel over the past 20 years, the Islamist movement said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians marched at their funerals, firing weapons into the air in anger and calling for revenge.

“The assassinations of the three Qassam leaders is a grave crime,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “But it will not break our people and Israel will pay the price for it.”

Hamas leader

The Israeli military and Shin Bet, the internal security service, confirmed it had targeted two of the men.

Following the collapse on Tuesday of a 10-day ceasefire, the military appears to have ramped up its efforts to hit the leadership of Hamas’s armed wing.

On Tuesday, the Israeli air force bombed a house in northern Gaza, an attempt, Hamas said, to assassinate Mohammed Deif, its top military commander. Deif’s wife, daughter and seven-month-old son were killed, but he escaped Hamas said.

Following that attack the Qassam Brigade posted a video online taunting Israel: “You’ve failed and you’ve missed. Time and again, you’ve proved you’re a bunch of failures. In 45 days of battle, you’ve only managed to kill women and children.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to say whether Israel had tried to kill Deif, but said militant leaders were legitimate targets and that “none are immune” from attack.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on 8 July with the declared aim of curbing Palestinian rocket fire into its territory. Gaza health officials say 2,061 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed.

Israeli attacks have devastated many areas in the densely-populated enclave, home to 1.8 million people, with 425,000 of people displaced, according to the United Nations. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in the conflict, as well as three civilians in Israel.

Hamas admits kidnapping

On Thursday a top Hamas official said members of his militant group kidnapped three Israeli teenagers whose deaths in June provoked a spiral of violence that led to the ongoing war in Gaza, the first acknowledgement of the movement's involvement.

Speaking at a conference in Istanbul, Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas official from the West Bank who lives in exile in Turkey, appeared to confirm Israeli allegations that the Islamist group was behind the teenagers' abduction.

"There was much speculation about this operation, some said it was a conspiracy," Mr al-Arouri told delegates at the meeting of the International Union of Islamic Scholars on Wednesday, a recording of which was posted online by organisers.

"The popular will was exercised throughout our occupied land, and culminated in the heroic operation by the Qassam Brigades in imprisoning the three settlers in Hebron," he said, referring to Hamas's armed wing.

Hamas officials have up to now refused to confirm or deny any involvement.