Israel Defends Attack On Hamas Militant As 'Self-Defense'
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - An Israeli air strike on the home of Israel's most-wanted Hamas militant killed him and more than a dozen other people early Tuesday morning. Press reports put the number of dead at 15 and the number of injured at more than 100.
Salah Shehade was one of the founders of Hamas and commanded its military wing in the Gaza Strip. As such, he planned and approved hundreds of terror attacks against Israelis during the last two years, security sources said.
Hamas decried the strike and vowed revenge. The attack seemed likely to frustrate recent attempts at calming two years of spiraling violence. But Israel said in the long term it would bring stability to the region.
Salah Shehade, his wife and three of their children were killed when an F-16 fired a missile at their apartment building, reducing it and several adjoining houses to rubble, witnesses said. Five other children were also among the dead and more than 100 others were wounded in the strike, some of them seriously.
Israel expressed regret for the deaths and injuries of civilians but it also justified the attack as an act of self-defense.
Hamas has claimed responsibility for scores of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings. It is also blamed for firing mortar shells at Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip almost daily.
Hamas recently declared war on Israeli buses and said Israel should be prepared to bury its dead. It also threatened to harm the families of Israeli leaders if the families of Palestinian terrorists were expelled from the Gaza Strip.
In comments to his cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the strike
"one of our major successes" but said it necessitated everyone "being on top alert."
"Naturally, Israel has no interest in harming civilians and it is always regrettable if civilians are hit," he said. "[Nonetheless], it will not be possible to reach any compromise with terror; terror must be fought," he added.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that killing Shehade would prevent future terror attacks. He also expressed regret over the killing of civilians and said that according to Israel's intelligence information, civilians were not supposed to be at that place at the time of the strike.
According to security sources, Shehade, a founder of Hamas, was the driving force behind hundreds of Hamas terror attacks in the Gaza Strip during the last two years. He had "designed the terror policy against Israel," improved Hamas' operation capabilities and reorganized and rebuilt Hamas in the northern West Bank, sources said.
Two recent attacks attributed to Shehade included the infiltration of the Atzmona community, in which five religious school students were killed in March, and the attack on an army outpost in which four soldiers were killed in January.
Calling the missile strike a "massacre," Hamas spokesman, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, vowed a swift revenge.
"Hamas's retaliation will come very soon, and there won't be only just one [attack]," Rantissi told Reuters. "After this crime, even Israelis in their homes will be the target of our operations."
PA minister Saeb Erekat called the attack a "despicable" war crime and said it would deal a blow to peacemaking.
Erekat met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over the weekend, to discuss ways that Israel could help to ease the plight of the Palestinian people at this time.
Peres later said that Israeli troops, hunkered down in most PA cities for more than a month, might begin pulling out of some of the areas as long as they remain quiet. There was talk that the PA had been trying to convince Hamas to stop attacks against Israel.
Although Israel is concerned about the possibility of revenge attacks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub said taking Shehade out of the picture now would bring "greater stability" to the area in the long run.
"This particular Hamas [militant] was most opposed to stopping bombings against Israel," said Taub in a telephone interview.
"He was the number one terrorist of concern in the Gaza Strip, the most extreme mastermind. Israel's been trying to stop him for a long time," Taub said. "Nobody gives a choice of times when we can get ahold of terrorists."
United Nations spokesman Fred Eckhard condemned the Israeli action and said Israel had failed to live up to its legal and moral responsibility to guard against the loss of innocent life.
He called on Israel "to halt such actions and to conduct itself in a manner that is fully consistent with international humanitarian law."
But Taub argued that international criticism was no reason for Israel to stop defending its citizens. "That criticism would have had more weight if they had been criticizing what Shehade had been doing [all along]."
E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.
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