An Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed three senior Hamas military commanders Thursday, delivering a likely blow to the organization's morale and highlighting the long reach of Israel's intelligence services.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed three senior Hamas military commanders Thursday, delivering a likely blow to the organization's morale and highlighting the long reach of Israel's intelligence services.
The strike marked a further escalation in fighting after Egyptian efforts to end the war collapsed earlier this week, and signaled no end in sight for violence that has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
The pre-dawn strike leveled a four-story house in a densely populated neighborhood of the southern town of Rafah, killing six people, including the three senior Hamas commanders.
Israel said the trio had played a key role in expanding Hamas' military capabilities in recent years, including digging attack tunnels leading to Israel, training fighters and smuggling weapons to Gaza.
Thousands of Palestinians marched through Rafah in a funeral procession Thursday afternoon firing guns, waving flags of different militant groups and chanting religious slogans. Those killed were carried aloft through the crowd on stretchers, wrapped in green Hamas flags.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said Israel "will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or weaken the resistance," and that Israel "will pay the price."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the "superior intelligence" of the Shin Bet security service and the military's "precise execution" of the attack.
Israel approved 10,000 reservists to be called up for duty Thursday afternoon. But not all of them were mobilized immediately, a defense official said on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to brief the media.
About two thousand reservists who were sent home about two weeks ago, when the violence appeared to have subsided, were called back for service on Wednesday.
The killing of the three Hamas commanders will likely buy Netanyahu some time as the Israeli public becomes increasingly impatient with the government's inability to halt rocket fire from Gaza.
Gaza police and witnesses said several missiles hit the four-story building. Israel and Hamas identified the three commanders killed in the 3 a.m. airstrike as Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Raed Attar and Mohammed Barhoum.
In pinpointing the whereabouts of the Hamas commanders, Israel likely relied to some extent on local informers. Israel has maintained a network of informers despite its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, in some cases using blackmail or the lure of exit permits to win cooperation.
Al Majd, a website linked to the Hamas security services, said Thursday that seven suspected informers were arrested in recent days and that three were killed "after the completion of the revolutionary procedures against them."
It was the second time during the Gaza war that the website announced suspected informers had been killed by Hamas.
The Rafah attack came a day after an apparent Israeli attempt to kill the top Hamas military leader, Mohammed Deif, in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City. Deif's wife and an infant son were killed in that strike, but the Hamas military wing said Deif was not in the targeted home at the time.
The body of his daughter, five-year-old Sara Deif, was recovered from underneath the rubble on Thursday, the Gaza Health Ministry said.