Hamas on Thursday announced that it arrested a man who it said assassinated one of the group’s top terror masterminds in March. The Islamist group claimed the man confessed to acting on orders from Israel, and indicated he would face execution.
“We announce to our people and nation the discovery and arrest of the killer,” newly elected Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said at a press conference outside Faqha’s home in Gaza, which was also attended by Hamas Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar.
The murderer “admitted clearly and in detail…that he carried out orders of officers from the Zionist security services,” Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh did not identify the suspected killer, but said more details would be revealed in the coming days.
Faqha was killed in the garage of his apartment building on March 24.
Hamas has said the gun used to shoot Faqha had a silencer, allowing the killer to escape unnoticed. It has said the professionalism of the shooting indicated that Israel was behind the hit.
“What the enemy did was a painful strike in terms of strategy and security,” Haniyeh said.
Faqha, 38, originally from the West Bank, was serving nine life terms in Israeli prison for directing deadly suicide bombing attacks in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded when he was freed with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011. Under the release, Faqha was sent to Gaza.
There, Faqha headed the Hamas office tasked with launching terror attacks against Israel from inside the West Bank. His subordinates in the branch specialized in recruiting suicide attackers, collecting weapons and preparing explosive devices.
“Punishment will be carried out against the murderer,” Haniyeh added. Hamas recently executed three men it accused of collaboration with Israel.
Following Faqha’s death, Hamas imposed a lockdown in Gaza, setting up military style checkpoints throughout the territory, sealing its border crossings and rounding up dozens of people for questioning.
Haniyeh thanked the people of Gaza for “understanding” the measures taken by security services over the past month and a half. He also dedicated the “strategic achievement” of finding the alleged shooter to the wife of Faqha, who stood next to him, to the Palestinian people and to the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who are staging a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
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Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that Hamas was responsible for the killing and that it came as a result of an internal dispute.
“Today, we can say with certainty that this was an internal assassination,” he told Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth in April.
Since Faqha’s killing, Hamas leaders have threatened to carry out a revenge attack against Israel.
On Wednesday. the Hebrew language daily Israel Hayom quoted defense officials as saying that Hamas is increasing its efforts to carry out a big terrorist attack in the West Bank in order to avenge the killing of Faqha.