The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday night tried to assassinates it most wanted Palestinian terror suspect Muhammad Deif, head of Hamas' military wing. The condition of the 40-year-old man, who already escaped three assassination attempts, was still unclear Wednesday morning.
The IDF entered the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday night. Palestinians reported that a Palestinian police officer was killed, another was wounded in exchanges of fire with IDF soldiers in the Dir al-Balah area.
Simultaneously, the Israel Air Force struck a two-story building in the Gaza City neighborhood of Sheikh Raduan. The building collapsed. Six bodies, including two children and two women, were recovered from the wreckage. Some 36 people were injured. According to the defense establishment, the building was being used as a hiding place for Hamas members.
A senior Hamas member involved in the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit was killed in another strike.
Khaled Abu Saada, an ambulance driver, told Ynet that six bodies and 36 injured people were recovered from the wreckage. According to the reports, Dr. Nabli Abu Saleimeh, a lecturer at the Islamic University and a well known Hamas activist in the city, was killed. His wife, daughter, two sons and neighbor were also killed.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the place and were asked by the rescue forces to leave the scene in order to make it easier to evacuate the injured.
The aerial strike was carried out in parallel to another stage of the IDF's Gaza operation, this time in the central Strip, which was divided into two in the Kissufim area.
IDF officials said that the aerial strike was carried out after discovering that senior Hamas terror activists were in the building, apparently hiding in a room. The IDF added that the activists initiated and carried out acts of terror and fired Qassam rockets. There was also intelligence information on terror attacks and "serious" acts of terror they had planned to carry out in the future.
Building hit in strike (Photo: AP)
During the operation, the Air Force struck a Palestinian vehicle traveling near the building. Three Palestinians were injured in the attack, including Ahmed Gandor, a senior member of Hamas' military wing, who was seriously wounded and evacuated to the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Gandor served as a Hamas commander in the northern Strip and has managed to escape several IDF strikes in the past. Gandor is one of the people responsible for the Qassam launching alignment, being the commander of Hamas in the northern Strip. Gandor was also suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit.
Another strike took place at around 5:30 a.m., when Palestinian sources in the Strip reported that the Air Force fired a missile at a vehicle near the central Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis.
According to the sources, three members of the Salah al-Din Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees' military wing, were in the place and one of them was killed. The sources added that the man killed was Hisham Abu Nuseiri, a senior member of the organization, whose people were involved in the kidnapping of Shalit.
Palestinian Authority officials were furious over the strike, immediately realizing that it was an attempt to assassinate a senior terror suspect.
Responsible for deaths of dozens of Israelis
Past attempts prove that the IDF uses F-16 planes to killed "fat fish," as in the case of Salah Shehade, the founding commander of Hamas' military wing, whose was killed in a warplane strike, which led to the collapse of a Gaza building and to the killing of 15 Palestinians, most of them children.
Hamas spokesman Abu Ubaidah, denied that Deif was injured and told news agencies that "this is an attempt to cover up the fact that civilians were massacred."
A similar attack took place in another Gaza building about two years ago. The IDF had claimed that all the members of Hamas' political and military leadership, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, had gathered in the building. The Hamas leaders escaped the strike unharmed, but several Palestinians were killed.
Deif is responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide attacks he planned. In 1992, he went into hiding and escaped at least three assassination attempts.
Deif inherited the command on Hamas' military wing from Yehya Ayash, known as "the engineer," who was assassinated in 1996. He was behind a series of severe terror attacks which were carried out in revenge for Ayash's assassination. He was responsible for sending terrorists to carry out suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, and was behind the groups that kidnapped and murdered IDF soldiers Nachson Waxman and Shahar Simani.
Deif, who knew he was being targeted by Israel, did everything to escape and slip away. At the end of 1996, he apparently escaped to Egypt, but he later returned to plan terror attacks. The more prominent terror activists were assassinated by Israel over the year, the more Deif became involved in planning attacks, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the past years, he and his deputy Adnan al-Rul, who was assassinated at the end of 2004, were involved in developing rockets. In the course of the years he was arrested by Palestinian security forces, but was released after short periods of time.
The first attempt to assassinate Deif was in August 2001, but he managed to escape. In September 2002, the Air Force struck a vehicle in which he was traveling at the Gaza neighborhood of Sheikh Raduan. Deif was injured, but survived. In 2003, while the IDF attempted to hit senior Hamas members in a Gaza apartment, Deif and his friends escaped at the last moment.
In one of the incidents, in which a missile was fired at him, Deif reportedly lost one of his eyes.
Various legends and myths have been associated with his health condition, some claiming that he suffered brain damage. Deif once appeared in a Hamas film, in which he issued statement proving that he is still active.
About a week ago, Deif gave an interview to the al-Jazeera network, in which he said that "all the land conquered in 1948 is Palestine's land. Every Muslim in the world has the right and duty to fight in order to liberate this land because it is Muslim land."
Deif has been considered a target in the past year as well, in spite of various requests made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "to pardon" him. Israel sees him a the person responsible for the deaths of dozens and hundreds of civilians and soldiers, and his name was never removed from the list of targets that "have to be dealt with."
Ali Waked contributed to the report