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Israel Unrolls New Series Of Strikes Against Hamas Leadership


Since cease-fire talks broke down two days ago, Israel counts more than 300 militant rockets fired on the country from Gaza. Meanwhile, Palestinians say Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed at least 28 people today. Many of those killed in Gaza have been civilians, but as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the latest series of attacks have hit some Hamas military leaders.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The streets of Gaza were mostly deserted today. People are sheltering from the Israeli bombardment. But not here in the southern town of Rafah. Several thousand gather for the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders - killed overnight by Israeli airstrikes on a nearby house. There are prayers. Then the bodies, swaddled in green Islamic flags, are carried off by a sea of young men for burial. These three are Hamas's highest ranking casualties so far in this six-week war. They were veteran leaders within the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing. They fought Israel over more than two decades. Israel's military described one, Ra'ed Attar, as a mastermind of rocket attacks on Israeli cities, of bombings, weapons smuggling and the kidnap of an Israeli soldier. It said another, Mohammed Abu Shamala, was the most senior Hamas commander in southern Gaza. Palestinians watching the funeral made no secret of the dead man's importance.

ABDUL MENEM ABU TAHA: They are famous - famous, yes.

REEVES: That's Abdul Menem Abu Taha, a 40-year-old engineer. After the recent collapse of the latest cease-fire, Israel now seems to be focusing on turning up the pressure on Hamas by eliminating leaders of its armed wing. Two days ago it tried to assassinate the al-Qassam Brigades' chief commander and figurehead, Mohammed Dief

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: A spokesman for the militants afterwards appeared on TV, triumphantly jeering at Israel for missing Dief but killing his wife and baby son. Israel's defense minister says Israel will continue to target Hamas leaders everywhere and anywhere, he says. Talal Oukal, a Palestinian political analyst, believes Israel's strategy is more complex than that.

TALAL OUKAL: They are not seeking to ruin Hamas - to finish its authority here.

REEVES: Oukal believes this is an effort by Israel to corrode Hamas' power.

OUKAL: The main - the main target for the Israelis is to keep Hamas here to a minimum power, you know? And to - to keep this place between - division between the regime with Gaza and West Bank.

REEVES: Israel has assassinated a number of top Hamas leaders over the year, and yet the militants of regrouped. Back in Rafah at the funeral, Palestinians seems certain that'll happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: So long as our women can have babies, says 65-year-old Darwish al-Arja, there will be more Hamas commanders. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.