Israel said it would call up 10,000 reservists as Palestinians vowed to avenge Israel’s killing of three Hamas commanders in Gaza this morning.
The pre-dawn strike levelled a four-storey house in a densely populated neighbourhood of the southern town of Rafah, killing six people, including Mohamed Abu Shamaleh, Raed Attar and Mohamed Barhoum. Both Israel and Hamas identified the commanders killed in the 3am air strike.
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas leader said the group had carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June, an incident which helped spark the current conflict. Saleh Arouri said Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, carried out what he described as a “heroic operation” to create a new Palestinian uprising.
Israel said the three Hamas commanders had played a key role in expanding Hamas’s military capabilities in recent years, including digging attack tunnels leading to Israel, training fighters and smuggling weapons to Gaza.
Thousands of Palestinians marched through Rafah in a funeral procession firing guns, waving flags of different militant groups and chanting religious slogans. Those killed were carried aloft through the crowd on stretchers, wrapped in green Hamas flags.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said Israel “will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or weaken the resistance” and “will pay the price”.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “superior intelligence” of the Shin Bet security service and the military’s “precise execution” of the attack.
An Israeli defence official said that tens of thousands of reserve soldiers would be called up for duty.
In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel probably 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 co-operation.
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 came 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. Mr Deif’s wife and an infant son were killed in that strike, but the Hamas military wing said Mr Deif was not in the house at the time. The body of his daughter, five-year-old Sara Deif, was recovered from the rubble today.
The targeting of top Hamas military leaders came after indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations in Cairo on a sustainable truce broke down on Tuesday. Gaza militants resumed rocket fire on Israel, even before the formal end of a six-day truce.
Since then, Gaza militants have fired dozens more rockets, and Israeli aircraft have struck dozens of targets in Gaza, dimming prospects for a resumption of the talks.
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