As the Israel Defense Forces’s operation to quash Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza entered its fifth day on Sunday, it became increasingly clear that the Hamas military leadership was high on the list of primary targets.
Operation Pillar of Defense began on Wednesday afternoon by targeting the most senior Hamas military commander, Ahmed Jabari. Over the weekend the air force continued to pound targets that included not just the missile launching infrastructure that menaces Israel’s southern communities, but also the individuals who oversee its operation.
On Sunday afternoon, IDF Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz told reporters that the home of key Hamas rocket chief Yihya Abiya had been hit, and later reports said he had been killed. Abiya was said to have directed the launch of salvos of rockets into southern Israel earlier on Sunday.
In total 11, Hamas activists were killed on Saturday including Ahmed Abu Jalal, a senior ground forces commander; Khaled Sheir, a top commander in the Hamas anti-tank forces; and Mohammed Kalav, a senior Hamas air defense commander. Aircraft also bombed the Hamas command center in Gaza that housed the bureau of Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. A police station that was home to Hamas Internal Security services offices was also destroyed.
Haniyeh’s spokesman said Sunday that the Hamas prime minister has now gone underground “for security reasons.” Haniyeh got the message that he might be a target, said the spokesman, when the IAF struck at the command center where his office is situated. The spokesman also vowed that Hamas “resistance” would continue until the occupation of Palestine was over.
Several Israeli politicians including Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said last week that they hoped IDF operations would extend to Hamas political figures.
In Rafah, tunneling and smuggling expert Osama Kadi was killed in another strike. The smuggling tunnels, of which there are hundreds running beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, are the primary route through which Hamas brings weapons into the Strip.
The home of Ad Idin-Khalad, the southern battalion commander of Hamas, was bombed.
In Rafah the home of Ahmed Randor, the Hamas northern commander, was also hit. Hamar escaped without injury but first reports said some civilians were killed. The home of another Hamas operative, believed to be use for weapons storage, was also destroyed.
The IDF has said that many weapons stockpiles are located beneath residential buildings, the occupants of which become unwilling human shields for the arsenals.
In total 950 targets in total had been attacked and over 50 Palestinians killed, including many senior Hamas operatives, as of Sunday noon.
As rumors continued of a possible ceasefire, the IDF and Israel’s leaders maintain that they are ready for a ground incursion. Such a move would likely greatly increase casualties on both sides. During the three-week long Cast Lead operation to end Hamas rocket fire in 2008, over 1,100 Palestinians were killed.