HAMAS SAYS THREE TOP COMMANDERS KILLED BY ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE IN GAZA

FoxNews on August 21, 2014, reported that Hamas said that an Israel airstrike in Gaza killed three of its senior military leaders… Excerpts below:

The Palestinian militant group claimed that the men — identified as Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Mohammed Barhoum and Raed al-Attar — were killed along with three other people in a strike on a four-story building near Rafah, a town in the southern part of the coastal territory.

The trio had played a key role in expanding Hamas’ military capabilities in recent years, including digging attack tunnels leading to Israel, training of fighters and smuggling of weapons to Gaza, Israel said.

It was not immediately clear if their assassination would prompt a change in Hamas strategy in the current round of fighting with Israel or diminish the group’s ability to fire rockets at Israel. Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, is a secretive organization.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said Israel “will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or weaken the resistance,” and that Israel “will pay the price.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “superior intelligence” of the Shin Bet security service and the military’s “precise execution” of the attack.

“The strike was the result of intelligence and operational activities, which led to the detection and attack on two central operatives from the heart of Hamas’s military leadership,” Israeli security agency Shin Bet said in a statement.

In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel likely relied to some extent on local informers. Israel has maintained a network of informers despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, in some cases using blackmail or the lure of exit permits to win cooperation.

The strike, one of 20 the Israeli military said it carried out on August 21, came one day after another strike in Gaza City aimed at Hamas’ senior military leader, Mohammad Dief. Israeli intelligence sources have told Fox News that they believe that Dief was killed in that operation, but Hamas has claimed that he survived.

Israel says the airstrikes are in response to a resumption of Hamas rocket fire on August 19 that scuttled a six-day cease-fire.

Since August 19, Hamas and other groups have fired dozens more rockets, and Israeli aircraft have struck dozens of targets in Gaza, dimming prospects for a resumption of the Cairo talks.

It was unclear if the killing of the three Hamas commanders would affect its ability to fire rockets. Israel estimated that Hamas had 10,000 rockets before the war and lost about two-thirds of its arsenal since then.

In a joint statement, the Israeli military and Shin Bet emphasized the importance of Abu Shamaleh, Attar and Barhoum to the Hamas military operation.

Abu Shamaleh had been the top Hamas commander in southern Gaza, it said. Attar was in charge of weapons smuggling into Gaza, the construction of attack tunnels and had played a role in the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, in 2006. Barhoum was a senior Hamas operative in Rafah, the statement said.

Abu Shamaleh was a confederate of Deif’s who was involved in planning and carrying out at least four major attacks on Israeli soldiers since the 1990s, including one in 2004 that killed four and wounded 10, the statement said.

Attar, it said, was responsible for orchestrating a series of complex attacks on Israeli targets, including through the Sinai Peninsula in neighboring Egypt.

“This morning’s strike sends a clear message to those responsible for planning attacks, we will strike those that have terrorized our communities, towns and cities, we will pursue the perpetrators of abduction of our soldiers and teenagers, and we will succeed in restoring security to the State of Israel,” said an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

Israel also hit at smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border with Egypt and at agricultural lands west of Rafah in the new airstrikes.

The military said 18 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza since midnight August 20, compared to more than 210 over the previous 30 hours.

An Israeli was seriously wounded when a mortar hit south of the southern city of Ashkelon on August 21, it said.

For more see The Times of Israel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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