Hamas loses three great leaders, vows a thousand more leaders to come

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A Palestinian grieves over the body of one of three men killed at a local cemetery following an Israeli military strike on Gaza City, on August 21, 2014. Three senior Hamas commanders and four children were among at least 15 Palestinians killed earlier today in Gaza, as Israel stepped up air strikes on day 45 of the bloody conflict. (Photo: AFP-Ali Hassan)

By: Bayan Abdel Wahad, Islam Sakka

Published Friday, August 22, 2014

Hamas suffered a severe blow on Thursday when Israeli warplanes managed to assassinate three of its top commanders. They were: Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Mohammed Barhoum, and Raed al-Attar, who commanded Rafah's military brigade and had been one of the top figures on the occupation army's hit list for a quarter of a century.

On its website, al-Qassam Brigades eulogized three of its leaders saying, "their departure will only lead to increasing the Brigades' resolve and determination to pick up the flag and continue forward. As the days will show, a leader will be succeeded by a thousand leaders."

Raed al-Attar: Hamas’ chief of operations in Rafah

It is normal for intelligence circles in Israel to raise a toast to its victory, by killing senior commander Raed al-Attar, a member of the supreme military council of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

With the assassination of Attar, it is still unclear if Israel had killed the man who had key details to the whereabouts of its soldier Hadar Goldin, who went missing in Rafah during the current onslaught. Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot maintained the Hamas commander was the only person who knew where the Israeli officer was kept, as "he was in charge of all Hamas military activities in Rafah."

Attar's name became known after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006, during a raid on Karm Abu Salem military point by Hamas commandos trained by Attar, who also organized the operation.

According to Israeli intelligence reports, Attar – born in 1974 and a father of two – heads al-Qassam's commando unit and is in charge of smuggling weapons from the Sinai into Gaza. According to Yediot Ahronot, Attar was one of the most powerful Hamas leaders and was in charge of the Rafah region on the Egyptian border. The area is where Hamas built the tunnels, which provided them with the necessary equipment and supplies to build their military capacity.

Informed sources from al-Qassam's leadership told Al-Akhbar that Attar was one of the Brigades’ security masterminds. He was behind dozens of operations, in addition to Shalit's capture. The sources maintained that he supervised and ran the Rafah battle without fear, especially in al-Zanna area to the east, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy.

The sources explained that targeting Attar and two other al-Qassam commanders in Rafah meant that Hamas suffered a serious blow in southern Gaza, due to the military status of the three leaders. The sources added that Attar, in particular, was very close to Qassam's General Commander Mohammed al-Daif and said that second tier officers in the military council have already taken over the duties of Attar, Abu Shamaleh, and Barhoum.

Mohammed Abu Shamaleh: The phantom that filled Israel with terror

Israel succeeded in eliminating one of the most wanted people on its intelligence lists since 1991. He was 41-year-old martyr Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, aka Abu Khalil; a member of Hamas’s supreme military council, head of the al-Qassam Brigades in South Gaza and one of the founders of the Brigades in the city of Rafah.

Abu Shamaleh rose to prominence during the first intifada, becoming famous for his operations against collaborators. He participated in organizing the ranks of al-Qassam Brigades and used to command its logistics department. He was detained by Israel for nine months and spent one and a half years in Palestinian Authority jails.

Abu Shamaleh survived several assassination attempts. On one occasion, on the night of Sunday, January 12, 2003, he received a call on his cell phone from a young woman who spoke Arabic with difficulty, so he hung up. A few seconds later, he received a call from an associate informing him of helicopters above the area.

Abu Shamaleh and his companion in the Subaru at the time, Raed al-Attar, also noticed the helicopters. They stopped the car and ran south towards an olive grove, where they were seen by the two children of the grove’s owner. They asked them if they could stay, "because airplanes were following us," and buried their phones. However, the helicopters continued to look for them and fired three missiles in their direction, injuring both commanders and the two children.

Israeli newspapers started calling him "the phantom." When the Israeli army invaded his neighborhood in Yabna camp in summer 2004, it besieged his home and then razed it to the ground using explosives. But he had managed to escape, even though he was there when the house was besieged. The occupation also shelled his home in al-Shaboura in central Rafah several times, including in the current aggression.

According to Israeli sources, Abu Shamaleh was the most important among those it murdered yesterday. He had been involved in several attacks against the occupation and supervised several operations in Barakin al-Ghadab, Mahfouza, Jardoun, Tarmid, and al-Wahm al-Mutabaddid in which Shalit was captured. He was also a prominent commander in al-Furqan, Hijarat al-Sijjil, and al-Asf al-Makoul battles.

Rumors had been circulating that Abu Shamaleh would be the one to succeed Ahmed al-Jaabari, who was killed on the first day of operations in the second war on Gaza in 2012.

Mohammed Barhoum: al-Qassam's "old man" and mastermind

As soon as the martyrdom of 45-year-old Mohammed Barhoum, aka Abu Osama – one of the most influential al-Qassam Brigades founders in Rafah – was announced, al-Qassam Brigades issued a statement eulogizing him as one of the leaders of the first generation of Brigade members.

According to sources inside al-Qassam, Barhoum had been wanted by Israel since 1991. However, he managed to remain in hiding until he left Gaza in secret and went to several Arab countries before settling in Sudan.

Eight years into his forced exile, Barhoum decided to come back to Gaza at the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, to participate in guerrilla operations against the occupation.

Longtime comrades of the martyr told Al-Akhbar that as soon as "Abu Osama" set foot back home, he resumed his military activities with al-Qassam Brigades and led fierce battles against the occupation in the eastern regions of Rafah City. He also planned and organized several suicide operations inside the 1948-occupied territories, until Israel announced its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

The withdrawal allowed Barhoum to assist the Brigades leadership in southern Gaza to design and develop locally-made missiles. According to sources, the martyred commander had a profound impact on the development of the Brigades’ missiles system. This was in addition to his supervision of several tunnels in the far south of Rafah, on the borders with Sinai.

The sources indicated that Barhoum enjoyed a wide network of relations with several sides, allowing him to import military equipment through the tunnels. Recently, he became exclusively active in supervision and tactics, without being involved in military activities personally, according to sources.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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