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Israeli airstrike in Gaza targets Hamas commander

Israel targeted Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif after Hamas rocket fire broke nearly six days of a cease-fire.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   Aug. 20, 2014 at 8:41 AM   |   Comments

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GAZA CITY, Gaza, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Israel suspended negotiations and renewed airstrikes in Gaza overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday, responding to a burst of Hamas rocket fire that broke nearly six days of calm.

"Israeli cities are under rocket attack," the Israeli military spokesman's department said in a tweet. "Millions of Israelis are running to bomb shelters. Hamas made its decision. Now we will make ours."

Israel said it had counted more than 100 rockets by noon Wednesday, intercepting six with the Iron Dome air defense system and allowing the rest to fall into open land. Hamas took credit for targeting Ben Gurion Airport, and several exploded near Tel Aviv, setting off air raid sirens.

In response to the collapse of the cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled negotiators out of Cairo, where talks to negotiate a lasting peace agreement had stalled.

"The talks are based on a premise that there is a cease-fire,'' said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the prime minister. "If there is no cease-fire, there is no foundation to the discussions.

Among Israel's targets was Mohammed Deif, considered to be the leader of Hamas' armed wing, Qassam, and the designer of its signature Qassam rockets.

The Palestinian health ministry said Deif's wife, Wedad Deif, 28, and their 7-month-old son Ali, were killed in an airstrike at their Dalo home Tuesday night, while Deif's whereabouts remain unclear. A post from ministry spokesman Ashram al-Qedra on his Facebook page originally said three people had been killed, but the post has since been removed and al-Qedra said only only the wife and child were dead.

Palestinian news reports said several bodies were removed from the rubble.

Deif, who is believed to be about 50, has been Israel's top target since 1996. The Israeli military has made assassination attempts since he took over as head of Qassam in 2002, and in a 2003 strike left him severely handicapped. Renewed efforts to hunt him came after Deif claimed in a recorded message last month that Hamas was "winning the war."

"For years, Mohammed Deif has been hiding in the tunnels underneath Gaza, and that is where he will remain because he's a dead man," Yair Lapid, Israel's finance minister said on July 30. Later, Mr. Lapid declared, "To Deif and his gang, I want to say clearly: Just as the United States did not rest until it found Bin Laden and eliminated him, we will find you and bring you to justice."

Qassam confirmed the deaths of Wedad and Ali Deif, but would not say whether Deif himself was alive or dead.

Health officials in Gaza said the death toll rose to 2,028 since the outbreak of fighting six weeks ago, and 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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