A streak of light is seen as a rocket is launched from the
northern Gaza Strip towards Israel. Photo by Reuters
Israel killed three senior Hamas commanders in the Gaza
Strip in an air strike and said it would continue to target the
group's armed leadership 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.
All three, killed in the bombing of a house in the southern
Gaza town of Rafah, had led operations against Israel over
the past 20 years, the Islamist movement said. Hospital
officials said a four-year-old girl injured in the attack
later died of her wounds.
The Israeli military and Shin Bet, the internal security
service, confirmed it had targeted two of the men.
Since the collapse on Tuesday (local time) of a 10-day
ceasefire, the Israeli military has ramped up its efforts to
hit the leadership of Hamas's armed wing, the Izz el-Deen
"We will continue to seek out and target Hamas leaders
anywhere, and everywhere - wherever they are," Israeli
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said. Hamas said in a statement
"the assassination policy has failed to weaken (our)
Late 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 Deif
escaped, Hamas said.
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.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians marched at the funeral of
the three Hamas commanders on Thursday, 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 told Reuters. "But it
will not break our people and Israel will pay the price for
Palestinian health officials said 29 Palestinians, including
four children, the Hamas commanders and at least two other
militants, were killed in Israeli air strikes on Thursday.
The Israeli military said aircraft attacked more than 30
sites across Gaza and that militants fired more than 70
rockets and mortar bombs into Israel. A mortar bomb that
landed near a kindergarten in an Israeli kibbutz badly
wounding a parent of one of the children, according to the
Israeli ambulance service.
Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israel's military intelligence
and head of Tel Aviv University's INSS think-tank, said
Israel, which was engaged in indirect ceasefire talks with
Hamas in Cairo until Tuesday, had now changed its game plan.
"The prime minister has adopted a strategy which says, 'You
shoot at us, we'll hit you seven times harder, you want
attrition? We have intelligence and an air force that will
crush you with greater force'," he told Israel Radio.
However, Israel's ultimate goal could still be a diplomatic
deal to end the hostilities, Yadlin said.
"Even the crazy extremists in Hamas understand time is not on
their side and this is what we need to do - military activity
aimed at an eventual diplomatic outcome," he said.
Shin Bet said Abu Shammala headed Hamas's southern command
and it described al-Attar as a brigade commander. It said
both had been leading fighting against Israel in the south of
Gaza, where some of the most intense combat has occurred.
Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8 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.
Egypt has said it will continue contacts with both sides,
whose delegates left Cairo after hostilities resumed. Yet
there appears to be little chance in the current
circumstances of putting an end to fighting or making
progress on peace talks.
Netanyahu said fighting could go on for a long while and
provisionally approved the call-up of 10,000 army reservists.
"This will be a continuous campaign," he told reporters.
Hamas has said it will not relent until the Israeli-Egyptian
blockade on the Gaza Strip is lifted. Both countries view
Hamas as a security threat and are reluctant to make sweeping
concessions without guarantees weapons will not enter Gaza.
The commanders targeted on Thursday were the most senior
Hamas men killed since November 2012, when the assassination
of military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari triggered an eight-day
cross-border war. While Israel says it has killed several
hundred Hamas militants in the conflict, they have largely
been front-line fighters, not the organisation's commanders.