PM Benjamin Netanyahu says: ‘No terrorist leaders immune from IDF’
• One of the three killed, Raed al-Attar, was behind the 2006 Gilad Schalit kidnapping.
• Speculation continues regarding possible assassination of Hamas military wing chief Mohammed Deif.
By Israel Hayom Staff & News Agencies
Hamas officials announced on Thursday that three of its senior military leaders were killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip.
In a text message distributed to the media, Hamas announced that Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Mohammed Barhoum and Raed al-Attar were killed in the Israeli airstrike near the southern town of Rafah early on Thursday.
They are considered to be in the senior levels of the Hamas military leadership.
Palestinian police and health officials say that six people were killed in the Rafah strike and that dozens of others remain trapped in the rubble of a four-story building targeted by Israel.
Al-Attar was one of the Hamas operatives behind the 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who was released in a prisoner exchange in 2011.
Hamas issued a statement Thursday confirming the deaths.
According to a Shin Bet security agency statement, al-Attar had been involved in a string of terror attacks in recent years in which several Israeli soldiers had been killed or wounded.
Thursday’s assassination was not the first Israeli attempt on al-Attar’s life. His house was targeted earlier in Operation Protective Edge, but he was not there. During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 an attempt was made to assassinate him from the air, but the attempt failed.
According to the Shin Bet, Abu Shamaleh, 40, was the most senior Hamas military commander in southern Gaza, responsible for all of Rafah and Khan Younis. He was a veteran member of the organization’s military leadership, holding key posts since the early 1990s.
Later Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation, saying “the exceptional intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet, coupled with the IDF’s precise operational capability, allowed us to execute this operation targeting the heads of Hamas, who planned deadly attacks on Israeli citizens.”
“This operation joins a long line of thwarted attacks planned by Hamas,” he said, adding that Operation Protective Edge will continue “until the objectives are achieved — restoring calm for a prolonged period while substantially sabotaging Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon echoed the prime minister’s remarks, saying that “the Hamas commanders who were killed were responsible for serious attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers, and the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, among other things. This is a very big intelligence and operations success achieved by the Shin Bet and the IDF, who are working very hard to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel.”
The assassinations Thursday came two days after the wife and infant son of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif were killed in an Israel Air Force bombing aimed at assassinating the elusive Hamas operative. Deif has commanded over Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, for over a decade, and evaded four previous attempts on his life. It was not clear whether Deif was among the six individuals killed in the strike.
The Israeli defense establishment generally remained silent following the attempted assassination, but speaking informally to Fox News on Wednesday, an anonymous security official said that the Israeli assessment was that Deif had indeed been killed.
Netanyahu refused to address the question directly, saying only that “terrorist commanders are a legitimate target.”
“No one is immune,” the prime minister said.
Deif is among the 20 most wanted Palestinians in recent years. He masterminded terror attacks that killed dozens of Israelis over the years, and essentially turned the Hamas military wing from a violent gang into a well-trained army.
Hamas on Wednesday insisted that Deif was still alive, making multiple declarations stating this. Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, said in a televised statement Wednesday: “You [Israel] have failed and you have missed. You have failed again and again in efforts to kill him and you will never be able to hurt Mohammed Deif, who will lead the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian people to the gates of the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced that “Deif was not in the house that was attacked. He is alive and still commanding the troops on the ground.”
But as persistent as the Hamas declarations were, so too were the doubts. In footage taken following the attack, Hamas operatives were seen taking pains to cover up some of the bodies evacuated from the rubble, blocking the media from documenting them.
A senior Palestinian Authority official told Israel Hayom on Wednesday that the fact that Hamas failed to release a voice recording of Deif to dispel assassination allegations was suspect. Deif was also absent from the funerals of his wife and son on Wednesday.
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=19589