Militant Hamas leader Nizar Rayan killed in air strike Israel has killed a senior Hamas leader in an air attack on his home, striking its first blow against the top ranks of the Islamist group.
Last Updated: TELEGRAPH 3:05 PM GMT, 01 January 2009.
An Israeli airstrike has killed high-ranking Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan, according to Hamas. ; Nizar Rayan died with his four wives and tywo of his children, aged seven and ten, in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
Medics said Rayyan, a hardliner within the Islamist group, died when a missile crashed into a five-storey house in Jabaliya in the north of the territory.
He is the most senior Hamas official killed since Israel unleashed its massive bombardment against the Islamists on Saturday in response to persistent rocket fire from the enclave.
In the minutes following the strike, dozens of people rushed to the scene, pulling bodies from the rubble. A few months after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, Rayyan vowed the Islamists would also seize control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is still administered by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. "The blood of Sheikh Nizar Rayyan and the blood of other martyrs will never be wasted and the enemy will pay a heavy price for the crimes it has committed," Hamas official Ayman Taha said. Black-bearded Nizar Rayyan, 49, was a preacher at Jabaliya's "mosque of martyrs" who mentored suicide bombers. With a cartridge belt around his stocky frame, he would sometimes patrol the streets of Gaza with Hamas fighters. Late on Thursday night, Israeli war planes bombed the Jabalya mosque. Israeli security officials said it was a meeting place and command post for Hamas militants and the large number of secondary explosions after the strike indicated that rockets, missiles and other weapons had been stored there. Witnesses in Gaza said it was completely destroyed, see video click here.
Nizar Rayyan, widely regarded as one of Hamas's most hardline political leaders, had advocated renewing suicide bombings inside Israel. Many Hamas leaders are in hiding, anticipating assassination attempts by Israel, whose military confirmed the air strike. Hamas Radio said Rayyan rejected Hamas advice to leave his house. "He was close to Salah Shahade, the former Hamas master bombmaker and leader of Izzadin Al Kassam killed in July 2002. He sent his own son on a suicide attack mission against the Israeli Gaza Strip settlement of Alei Sinai. He was logistically involved in the Ashdod container terrorist attack in March 14, 2004 in which 10 port workers lost their lives. He told Reuters: “We will never recognize Israel. There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination.”
A lecturer at Gaza's Islamist University, Rayyan, 49, had mentored suicide bombers and would sometimes go on patrol with Hamas fighters. Hamas said Israel would pay a "heavy price" for his death, which was confirmed by medical officials.
Hours before the killing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel was fighting Hamas with an "iron fist", his words backed by a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip but challenged by rockets that have killed four people in southern Israel.
Israeli forces remained poised on the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion as international calls for an immediate ceasefire mounted.
Shortly after Olmert spoke to mayors in southern Israel, footage of a multi-storey building damaged in an attack and a rubble-strewn street filled Israeli television screens. This time, the scene was the not the battered Gaza Strip, rather a tree-lined street in Ashdod, a major Israeli port city, where a Hamas rocket had torn into the eighth floor of a residential building.
No one was hurt but several residents were treated for shock, officials said. Some 20 rockets hit elsewhere in southern Israel, causing no casualties. On the sixth days of hostilities, Israeli aircraft and naval forces attacked about 20 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including a government complex, the Israeli military said.
Palestinian medical officials said three civilians were killed in those air strikes and 100 people wounded. "I very much hope we will succeed in achieving our goals quickly," Olmert said, repeating Israel's declared aim of ending rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip and giving no precise time frame for the offensive that began on Saturday.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper said the Israeli army had recommended a major but short-term ground offensive into the densely populated enclave. Diplomats said the deadliest conflict in the Gaza Strip in four decades could get even bloodier after days of air strikes that have killed at least 407 Palestinians, about a quarter of whom, U.N. figures showed, were civilians, and wounded more than 1,700.