While the fate of top Hamas commander Mohammed Deif remains unclear after an assassination attempt, the organization's military wing said Thursday that Israel killed three of its senior commanders - Rafah Division commander Raed al-Attar, Southern Division commander Mohammed Abu Shmallah and Rafah Division senior commander Mohammed Barhoum in an overnight strike.
Al-Attar was involved in the planning and commanded the operation to kidnap IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, while Abu Shmallah was also involved in the planning of the operation.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade said the three were killed in a 2:30am bombing of a house in the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp west of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Seven other people were killed and 25 others wounded in the attack.
The targeted killing was a joint operation of the Shin Bet and IDF. The Shin Bet confirmed the killing of al-Attar and Abu Shmallah, but not Barhoum's.
Abu Shmallah, 41, and al-Attar, 40, were two of the most senior commanders in the al-Qassam Brigades.
Al-Attar the Hamas Division commander in southern Gaza, was one of the architects of the terror tunnel project in the south of the Strip, and also aided other Hamas divisions with tunneling.
He was one of the founders of Hamas' elite Nukhba unit and was in charge of arms smuggling from the Sinai Peninsula.
Al-Attar was behind a series of terror attacks in recent years, among them:
- The 1994 murder of an IDF officer in Rafah. Al-Attar was part of the terror cell that committed the attack.
- He planned and executed a terrorist bombing at the IDF's Tarmit post on the Philadelphi Corridor in September 2001. Four soldiers were wounded in the attack and extensive damage was caused to the post.
- He planned an attack on the IDF's Africa post on the Philadelphi Corridor in January 2002, in which 4 IDF soldiers were killed.
- He planned and commanded the attack in Kerem Shalom in June 2006, during which 2 IDF soldiers were killed and IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped.
Al-Attar was one of the closest people to Hamas' second-in-command Ahmed Jabari, whose assassination by the IDF and Shin Bet in November of 2012 served as the opening shot for Operation Pillar of Defense.
Al-Attar was in charge of launching many Hamas terror cells who committed terror attacks in Sinai against Egyptian targets. He was considered a natural replacement for Mohammed Deif as the head of Hamas' armed wing, amid reports Deif was killed by Israel on Tuesday night.
Abu Shmallah, the most senior commander in southern Gaza, was in charge of the Rafah and Khan Younis area. He survived previous assassination attempts.
He began his terror activity along with al-Attar and Mohammed Deif in the early 90's. Since then, he was directly involved in the execution of dozens of terrorist attacks, among them:
- The 1994 murder of an IDF officer in Rafah.
- Terror tunnel attacks in 2004 that claimed the lives of six IDF soldiers, 10 others were wounded.
- The 2008 attack in Kerem Shalom in which 13 soldiers were wounded when jeeps laden with explosives blew up at the crossing.
He was also behind the June 2006 attack in the Kerem Shalom area, in which two soldiers were killed and IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped.
During Operation Protective Edge, Abu Shmallah was involved in the infiltration of 13 Hamas terrorists through a tunnel.
Mohammed Barhoum spent many years in Syria and Libya, and was responsible for the transfer of money to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri threatened Israel would pay the price for the assassination, calling it "a massive Israeli crime."
The assassinations "only increase (the Palestinians') determination to carry the flag and keep going," a statement from Hamas said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.