GAZA (Reuters) – Two missiles fired by an Israeli helicopter killed a high-profile Hamas militant commander on his motorcycle and two comrades in Gaza City early on Sunday, Palestinian witnesses said.
Hamas sources identified the commander as Wael Nassar and said he and one of the other slain militants masterminded a May 11 ambush in which six Israeli soldiers were blown up when their troop carrier rolled over a mine during a raid into Gaza City.
Palestinian medics said seven civilians, including a woman and two children, were wounded in the missile strike into Gaza City’s Zeitoun district, an Islamist militant hotbed and target of the recent army incursion.
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed the missile strike, saying it had eliminated two senior militants responsible for planning suicide bombings and other attacks that had killed numerous Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Witnesses said Nassar and a Hamas military-wing comrade riding with him on his motorcycle were killed by the first missile. The second missile crashed close by moments later, killing another Hamas man in the street.
Hamas militants crowded into the mortuary that took in the three bodies, some of them kneeling to weep while others fired their rifles furiously in the air, shouting Allahu Akbar (“God is Greatest”) and vowing revenge.
“Did they hunt you down, my dear lion? I am afraid they did,” said Nassar’s uncle, Mansi, gazing at his charred body.
Another Palestinian brought pieces of the militants’ flesh to the morgue in a plastic bag.
In southern Gaza, Israeli armored forces pushed a short way into Rafah refugee camp and razed three houses, residents said. The army often raids Rafah in operations to root out tunnels used by militants to smuggle in arms from nearby Egypt.
The army laid siege to part of Rafah for six days earlier this month, killing at least 42 Palestinians and leaving more than 1,000 homeless after demolishing dozens of houses.
Israeli forces killed 16 Palestinians and wounded 185 in their sweep into Zeitoun three weeks ago.
Militants followed up the ambush on the troop carrier in Zeitoun by killing five more soldiers the same way on May 12 outside the southern refugee camp of Rafah.
UPDATE FROM CNN
GAZA CITY (CNN) — An Israeli Apache helicopter fired two rockets at a motorcycle in Gaza City Saturday, killing a civilian and two Hamas militants, one of them a senior leader of the military wing of the group, according to Palestinian sources.
Seven other civilians were wounded in the attack that killed Wael Nassar, head of Izzedine al Qassam, Hamas’ military wing. His assistant and a bystander also died in the strike.
Nassar was a former bodyguard for Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli missile strike in March.
Israeli media said the Hamas leaders were in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood when they were killed.
“Israeli security forces this evening targeted a motorcycle carrying two senior members of the Hamas group who were involved in many attacks, including suicide bombings, that caused the deaths of Israeli civilians and soldiers. The two were in the midst of planning an attack,” said an Israeli military spokesman.
The dead were identified as Nassar, Mahmoud Sarsur, his assistant; and Mahdi Mahdi.
The Israelis said Sarsur had been involved in recruiting terrorists, and used his home to store caches of Qassam rockets, used against Israel.
The U.S. State Department designates Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group, a terrorist organization. The group’s military wing has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and attacks against the Israeli military.