Three top Hamas commanders killed in Israeli pre-dawn strike

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An Israeli air strike in Gaza has killed three senior commanders of the Hamas military wing, the group said.

The news is likely to be a major blow to the organisation’s morale and a significant achievement for Israel’s intelligence agency.

The pre-dawn strike levelled a four-storey house in the southern town of Rafah, killing six people, including the three senior military commanders, identified by Hamas as Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Raed Attar and Mohammed Barhoum.

Israel said Abu Shamaleh 
had been the top Hamas commander in southern Gaza, overseeing fighters there during the current war. Attar was in charge of weapons smuggling into 
Gaza and the construction of attack tunnels, the Israeli military said.

In 2006, Attar was involved in the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, through such a tunnel, said the statement. It did not refer to Barhoum.

The Rafah attack came just a day after an apparent Israeli attempt to kill the top Hamas military leader, Mohammed Deif, in an air strike on a house in Gaza City.

Deif’s wife and an infant son were killed in that strike, but the Hamas military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said Deif was not in the targeted home at the time and was alive.

The back-to-back targeting of top Hamas military leaders came after indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations in Cairo on a sustainable truce broke down.

As talks ran aground on Tuesday, Gaza militants resumed rocket fire on Israel, even before the formal end of a six-day truce at midnight that day.

Since then, Hamas and other groups have fired dozens more rockets, and Israeli aircraft have struck dozens of targets in Gaza, a sign that prospects for a resumption of the Cairo talks are slim.

Despite the crisis, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was holding talks in Qatar with the top political leader of Hamas in exile, Khaled Mashaal, and the emir of Qatar. Before the collapse of the truce talks, Mr Abbas had planned to use the meetings in Qatar to urge Mashaal and his Qatari backers to support an Egyptian ceasefire plan.

Opinion: Page 17.