ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Hamas confirms senior commanders killed in earlier Gaza fighting

IDF had previously said it hit tunnels where Ahmed Ghandour, Ayman Siam were hiding but did not say for certain that they were dead; terror group lists two others also killed

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Undated photo of senior Hamas Ahmed Ghandour, left, with the terror group's Gaza Strip leader, Yahya Sinwar. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Undated photo of senior Hamas Ahmed Ghandour, left, with the terror group's Gaza Strip leader, Yahya Sinwar. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Hamas terror group confirmed Sunday the deaths of several senior commanders who were targeted by Israel during the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said Ahmed Ghandour, the commander of its northern Gaza brigade; Ayman Siam, the head of Hamas’s rocket firing array; as well as Wael Rajab and Raafat Salman were killed.

The Israel Defense Forces had previously said it had targeted Ghandour and Siam, but did not confirm they had been killed. After Hamas’s announcement, the IDF confirmed it had killed Ghandour, Siam, Rajab, Salman, and Farsan Khalifa, another senior member.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in Gaza after the terror group carried out a devastating cross-border attack on October 7 that killed over 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. Around 240 people were abducted and taken hostage in Gaza as thousands of terrorists rampaged for hours through southern areas.

Earlier this month the military said it hit top Hamas commanders in a pair of recent airstrikes against the terror group’s underground infrastructure in Gaza.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari did not at the time specify whether the senior Hamas officials were killed in the airstrikes. The army has targeted several of the listed individuals multiple times in the past 15 years.

This picture taken from southern Israel shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on November 19, 2023. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

One strike targeted a tunnel where several senior Hamas military commanders were hiding, including Ghandour and Siam, Hagari said.

The other strike targeted a tunnel where senior members of Hamas’s politburo were hiding, including Rawhi Mushtaha, Essam al-Dalis and Sameh al-Siraj, he added.

Hagari said at the time that “Hamas is trying to hide the results of the strike.”

Ghandour was the head of the Hamas military wing’s northern Gaza brigade and one of the most senior military officials in the terror group. He was said to be a close confidant of Hamas military chief Muhammed Deif, and oversaw the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Ghandour is believed to have survived several IDF assassination attempts, including in 2002 and 2012, and the US State Department designated him as a global terrorist in 2017.

He served time in Israeli prisons from 1988 to 1994 and was jailed by the Palestinian Authority from 1995 to 2000.

Siam has served as the head of Hamas’s rocket firing array. He also once served as the commander of Hamas’s artillery forces.

Israel has previously attempted to assassinate Siam, including in 2009 and 2014.

Rajab was Ghandour’s deputy, also serving as an operations officer in Hamas’s northern Gaza brigade. He once served as head of police in northern Gaza, and the commander of Hamas’s Beit Lahiya battalion.

Salman was the head of Hamas’s combat support array in northern Gaza. He previously served as the deputy to the head of the terror group’s northern Gaza brigade.

The IDF said he was involved in the planning of the October 7 onslaught, specifically the use of paragliders to infiltrate into Israel.

Salman was killed in the same strike as Ghandour and Rajab, according to the IDF.

Khalifa was a senior commander in Hamas’s so-called West Bank headquarters, from which the terror group directs attacks against Israel from the West Bank.

The IDF said Khalifa was close to senior Hamas members, and worked to direct attacks against Israel, most recently by recruiting a terror cell in the Nur Shams refugee camp near the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Israel has largely focused its operations so far on northern Gaza, urging residents to flee south while still targeting terror sites in the lower half of the Strip.

Most of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million people is now sheltering in southern Gaza, where the IDF believes Hamas’s remaining leaders are hiding in tunnels.

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