The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah on Saturday condemned the assassination of Mazen Faqha, a senior Hamas official, and accused Israel of masterminding the killing.
The organization asserted in a statement that the assassination was riddled with “Zionist fingerprints,” and added that its fight against Israel would continue, according to a report in the Al-Manar website, which is tightly associated with Hezbollah and serves as the group’s mouthpiece.
Faqha, who was jailed for life by Israel for organizing a 2002 suicide bombing, was released along with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held by Hamas for five years.
He was shot to death on Friday near his home in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, by assailants using a weapon equipped with a silencer. He was hit by four bullets to the head, Gaza reports quoted by Army Radio said.
Thousands of Hamas supporters on Saturday called for “revenge” during Faqha’s Gaza funeral, as leaders of the terror group continued to blame Israel for his killing and threatened retribution.
Former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, headed the procession from the Shifa morgue to the Omari mosque, an AFP photographer said.
Khalil al-Haya, a deputy to Sinwar, promised retaliation.
“If the enemy thinks that this assassination will change the power balance, then it should know the minds of [Hamas] will be able to retaliate in kind,” he said. On Friday al-Haya said that only the Jewish state would have had something to gain from Faqha’s death.
A Hamas official quoted by Army Radio said Israel was “trying to force a new model of a clandestine war on Hamas, as it has failed in the open war model.” He said Hamas would know how to respond to such tactics.
Originally from a small village in the West Bank, Faqha headed the Hamas office in Gaza tasked with launching terror attacks against Israel from within the territory. His subordinates in the branch specialized in recruiting suicide attackers, collecting weapons and preparing explosive devices.
Faqha, 38, was responsible for sending a suicide bomber to carry out an attack in northern Israel in 2002 in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded.
He was captured by the IDF and Shin Bet security services that year in his home village of Toubas in the northern West Bank.
According to a report in Haaretz from the time, Faqha was captured after a lengthy manhunt. He had previously been involved in several other attacks.
Before his release as part of the Shalit deal, Faqha was serving nine life sentences for planning the deadly 2002 terror attack.
Avi Issacharoff and agencies contributed to this report.