A senior Hamas official indicated on Wednesday that Hamas was responsible for the June 12 kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens near Hebron. The three were picked up while hitchhiking at a junction in Judea south of Jerusalem, sparking a nationwide manhunt that ended when their bodies were discovered several weeks later.
The admission by Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri came during a conference of Muslim scholars. In a recording of the conference, al-Arouri is heard praising the "kidnapping to Hebron of the three settlers," describing it as “blessed heroic action” which was “carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas's military wing.
The terror group has a large political and military presence throughout Judea and Samaria. Hebron has long been a Hamas stronghold, leading Israeli intelligence to suspect Hamas operatives located in the vicinity of the attack, and to the subsequent roundup of hundreds of Hamas members throughout the region. Hamas retaliated to the arrests with a continuous barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza strip aimed at Israeli civilians throughout the country, compelling Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge to defend its population.
Meanwhile Hamas's war of terror against Israel has resurged to levels unseen since Israel's August 3 ground pullout, with a record 168 rockets launched on Wednesday. Rocket fire towards southern and central Israel continued through Thursday, including a mortar piece that struck a children's home in the Eshkol region near Gaza, seriously wounding a bystander. The 33-year-old sustained shrapnel injuries when he pushed a teacher into a safe room in response to a Code Red rocket siren. The woman was holding a small child, and medics believe that his intervention saved their lives.
The continued assault by Hamas has led to a renewal of Israeli airstrikes. Early Thursday the IDF reported the overnight killing of several senior Hamas terrorists, including the supervisor of the Shalit kidnapping. Among those assassinated were Rafah Division commander Raed al-Attar, Southern Division commander Mohammed Abu Shmallah and Rafah Division senior commander Mohammed Barhoum. Of those, Al-Attar had led the planning and execution of Gilad Shalit's kidnapping in 2006, and Abu Shmallah had assisted in the operation.
Meanwhile, belief grows in Israel that its air forces killed Hamas's military leader Muhammad Deif in yesterday’s airstrike on his Gaza home. A tweet from Voice of Israel's Gal Berger said that as of this morning, "there are growing indications that…Muhammad Deif was killed in an assassination [attempt] in Sheikh Radwan two nights ago."
Deif was the head of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. Last Saturday night the Al-Qassam brigades had tweeted a short message reflecting its world view: "We are continuing our struggle. ALLAH IS OUR GOAL, THE PROPHET IS OUR LEADER, JIHAD IS OUR WAY, AND DEATH FOR ALLAH IS OUR MOST EXALTED WISH."
(Tazpit News Agency)