Three senior Hamas commanders, including the head of Hamas’s southern command in the Gaza Strip, were killed in Rafah Wednesday night, both Israel and Hamas confirmed Thursday morning.
“The strike was the result of intelligence and operational activities, which led to the detection and attack on two central operatives from the heart of Hamas’s military leadership,” the Shin Bet security service said in a statement. A third Hamas member was also killed in the attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Shin Bet’s “exceptional intelligence” and the IDF’s operational activity, which led to the detection and successful assassination of Hamas head of southern command Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Rafah commander Raed Al-Attar, and senior weapons smuggler Muhammad Barhum.
The Hamas leaders had “planned devastating attacks against the citizens of Israel,” he said, adding that Operation Protective Edge will continue “until its goals are reached — restoring long-term quiet for Israeli citizens, while striking a significant blow to the terror infrastructure,” Netanyahu said.
Abu Shamaleh and al-Attar were said to have played central roles in the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and in other high-profile attacks against Israelis.
Shalit was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner swap that freed over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including at least one believed to have been involved in the killing of three Israeli teens by a West Bank Hamas cell in June. That attack precipitated the most recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
The Shin Bet also named al-Attar as one of the architects of Hamas’s offensive tunnel operations in southern Gaza and as the head of the division that killed Israeli soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin while attempting to kidnap him. He was also allegedly responsible for smuggling weapons into Gaza from Sinai.
Barhoum, also killed in the strike, was a senior Hamas operative in Rafah responsible for smuggling weapons into Gaza from neighboring Egypt, Israel said.
Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said eight Palestinians were killed in pre-dawn air strikes on Thursday — seven in Rafah and another in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.
It was not immediately clear if the three dead Hamas terror commanders were among, or in addition to, the seven dead recorded by medics.
Barhoum was named as a senior commander by Hamas in its confirmation of the deaths.
Thursday morning’s blow to Hamas’s military leadership marked at least the second high-level assassination attempt by Israel since ceasefire negotiations in Cairo broke down on Tuesday.
Israel was said to have dropped several bunker buster bombs on Hamas’ top military commander Muhammad Deif’s residence early Wednesday in an apparent assassination attempt that killed five people, including Deif’s wife and baby son. Hamas maintained that Deif was not at home during the attack, and was still alive. However, Israeli intelligence sources told Fox News Wednesday that the Hamas terror chief was believed to have been killed.
News agencies contributed to this report.