Hamas' interior minister, Said Siam, considered one of the most senior members of the Palestinian group's leadership, was killed Thursday afternoon in an Israeli air strike on his brother's home in Gaza City, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The defense establishment said Siam's brother Ayad and the head of Hamas' security organization in Gaza, Salah Abu Sharah, were also killed in the strike. Hamas members confirmed that Siam and his brother were killed, but claimed that the third casualty was Siam's son.
Palestinian sources reported that 20 other people were injured in the attack.
Siam, 50, is the most senior Hamas figure assassinated in Operation Cast Lead so far, and is the most senior Hamas figure killed by Israel since the assassination of Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi in April 2004.
Siam was the person who built Hamas' special executive force, which was the main focus of friction and dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as the Hamas government took power, and he officially led the organization's takeover of the Gaza Strip.
The attack on Ayad Siam's house was carried out after information obtained by the Shin Bet revealed that Said Siam was also in the building. The Air Force then struck the house from the air.
Injured woman evacuated from scene of attack (Photo: AP)
Defense establishment officials stressed that the location of some of the Hamas leaders is known, but that the IDF refrains from attacking them in some cases due to moral considerations. In this case, the officials said, the IDF had a good operational opportunity due to the fact that there were no civilians near the senior Hamas members.
Hamas: Israel pursuing our leadership
Mohammed Nazzal, a member of Hamas' political bureau in Damascus, said following the targeted killing of Siam that "Israel is not interested in a ceasefire".
On the backdrop of reports that the Jewish state was about to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, Nazzal told the al-Jazeera network, "We are not waiting for the Israeli enemy's response. Their message is that they don’t want peace and a ceasefire."
According to Nazzal, Israel seeks to "pursue the leadership, destroy them at any price. The factions will continue to defend the Gaza Strip."
Nazzal sent his condolences to the Palestinian people following Siam's death. "He is onw of the people who sacrificed themselves for their religion and people and defended their holy land. He faced the homeland's enemies and people," he said.
According to Nazzal, "Siam is an inseparable part of the Palestinian leadership and people, so he was naturally pursued. I assume the Zionists will pursue any fighter wherever he is."
Home of Siam's brother following strike (Photo: AP)
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal convened a press conference on Thursday afternoon and referred to the sights from Gaza.
Speaking before Siam was killed, he said that "Gaza is writing a new chapter in history today, and the future will be different from the past."
According to Mashaal, "In the past Israel committed massacres in order to win a land without people, and today it is committing massacres in order to terminate the Palestinian problem. They want to impose conditions of defeat on us. And what is the response? Hamas and the resistance."
Mashaal added that 20 days after launching Operation Cast Lead, "Israel has not achieved a thing. It hasn't broken the resistance and hasn't dictated its conditions."
According to Mashaal, "What Israel failed to achieve on the ground it will fail to achieve through diplomatic measures as well."
The IDF decided to target the senior Hamas member in the past 24 hours. On Wednesday, the Israeli army bombed the home of Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Five gunmen, including Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar's bodyguards, were attacked on Wednesday night. The strike took place near al-Zahar's home in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF reported that the targets were hit.
Ali Waked and Roee Nahmias contributed to this report