AN ISRAELI air strike has killed three senior commanders of the Hamas military wing in Gaza.
The pre-dawn strike yesterday levelled a four-storey house in a densely populated neighbourhood of the southern town of Rafah, killing six people, including the three commanders.
Israel said the trio had played a key role in expanding the military capabilities of Hamas in recent years.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that 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 three commanders were among at least 15 people killed overnight in Gaza, including four children.
One Israeli was severely injured by a rocket attack from Gaza yesterday.
Israel and Hamas identified the three commanders killed as Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Raed Attar and Mohammed Barhoum. Gaza police and witnesses said several missiles hit the building.
Local resident Hamza Khalifa said: “We heard multiple F-16 missiles, one after the other, six or seven missiles.”
Several hours later, a large earth mover was still clearing mounds of debris and wreckage. at the scene.
Israel said that Abu Shamaleh had been the top Hamas commander in southern Gaza, while Attar was in charge of weapons smuggling into Gaza, the construction of 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.
In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel is likely to have relied on a network of local informers which it has maintained despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, in some cases using blackmail or the lure of exit permits to win cooperation.
Al Majd, a website linked to the Hamas security services, said that seven suspected informers were arrested in recent days and that three were killed “after the completion of the revolutionary procedures against them”.
The Rafah attack comes a day after an apparent Israeli attempt to kill the top Hamas military leader, Mohammed Deif, in an air strike on a house in Gaza City.
Deif’s wife and an infant son were killed in that attack, but the Hamas military wing said Deif was not there at the time.
The back-to-back targeting of top Hamas military leaders came after indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations in Cairo on a sustainable truce broke down on Tuesday.
Since then, Hamas and other groups have fired dozens more rockets at Israel and Israeli aircraft have struck many targets in Gaza.
Since the Gaza war erupted six weeks ago, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and about 100,000 left homeless, according to the UN and Palestinian officials. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.
Israeli Defence Force spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said: “This morning’s strike sends a clear message to those responsible for planning attacks, we will strike those that have terrorised 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.”