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Israeli strikes kill three senior Hamas commanders

Israeli warplanes killed three top Hamas commanders in southern Gaza on Thursday, inflicting a heavy blow on the movement's armed wing after failing to kill its top military chief.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2014 02:23 IST
israel,gaza,gaza under attack

Israeli warplanes killed three top Hamas commanders in southern Gaza on Thursday, inflicting a heavy blow on the movement's armed wing after failing to kill its top military chief.

As the six-week war between Israel and Hamas raged on, leaving Egyptian mediated truce talks in tatters, warplanes pounded Gaza killing three members of the Islamist movement's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

The Brigades said they were "senior commanders," identifying them as Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Barhum and vowing to make Israel pay.

"The assassination... is a big Israeli crime, which will not succeed in breaking our will or weakening our resistance," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency described Atar and Shamala as being among the top five most wanted Hamas militants.

Defence minister Moshe Yaalon hailed their deaths as "a big operational and intelligence achievement" and warned that Israel would not hesitate to track down the rest of the group's leaders.

"We will continue to hunt down and attack Hamas leaders wherever they are... Hamas leaders should know that we will neither rest nor be silent until we get our hands on them," he said in a statement.

In Rafah, there were scenes of devastation where the missile hit, blasting the four-storey building to smithereens and leaving a huge crater filled with dust and rubble.

Onlookers gathered at the site as rescue workers picked through the rubble and an earth mover tried to clear some of the heavier debris, an AFP correspondent said.

Four surrounding buildings were damaged in the force of blast with their doors and windows blown out and some outer walls also destroyed.

Witnesses said nine missiles were fired at the building.

Abbas meets Meshaal
The deadly strikes came 36 hours after Israel tried and failed to assassinate the Brigades' chief, Mohammed Deif, who has topped its most wanted list for over a decade.

That attack levelled a six-storey building in Gaza City, killing two women and two children, among them Deif's wife and his infant son, although he escaped unharmed, Hamas said.

Rescue workers on Thursday also pulled the body of Deif's three-year-old daughter Sara from the ruins, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Separately, another 24 people were killed in Israeli strikes across Gaza Thursday on day 45 of the bloody conflict, raising the overall death toll to 2,075 killed in Gaza.

UN statistics indicate around three-quarters of them were civilians.

On the Israeli side, 67 people have been killed, the vast majority of them soldiers.

One civilian was severely wounded when a mortar shell struck an area not far from the Gaza border on Thursday, the army said.

In the 48 hours since the truce broke down, Gaza militants have launched 283 rockets, 219 of which struck Israeli territory and another 44 which were shot down, the army said.

Despite the collapse of the negotiations, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Doha with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

"President Mahmud Abbas met in Doha with emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to discuss the latest development in Israel's aggression in Gaza and how to stop it," the agency said.

Also at the meeting was Azzam al-Ahmed, who led the Palestinian delegation at truce talks in Cairo, senior negotiator Saeb Erakat and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.

Abbas then met with Meshaal and his exiled deputy, Mussa Abu Marzuk, who also attended the Cairo talks, it said, without giving further details.

Gaza arms embargo?
Late on Wednesday, Hamas's armed wing said there be would no further negotiations with Israel, and warned foreign airlines "to stop flying into Ben Gurion airport from 6 am (0300 GMT)."

But the warning appeared to have gone largely unheeded with aviation officials saying air traffic was functioning normally, except for a brief interruption of "10 for security reasons," Israel Airports Authority (IAA) spokesman Ofer Lefler told AFP.

Egypt's Air Sinai, however, said it was cancelling its Thursday and Friday flights "due to the deteriorating security situation". The army said there had been no rockets fired at the area.

Last month, major US and European airlines suspended flights over security concerns for two days after a rocket landed very close to one of the runways at Ben Gurion in a move hailed by Hamas as a "great victory."

Meanwhile, British aid charity Oxfam called on the international community to "immediately suspend transfers of arms or ammunition while there is serious risk that they could be used to violate international humanitarian law".

It said the widespread killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure during the six-week operation was the worst it had witnessed in 20 years of working in Gaza

First Published: Aug 21, 2014 20:20 IST