IDF Kills West Bank Hamas Strongman Amid Rising Tensions

Incident comes as Shin Bet issues warning that the Islamist organization issued 'an organizational directive' to foil recently restarted peace talks.

The Israel Defense Forces killed a Hamas military commander in the West Bank, Israel Radio reported on Friday, in the latest of recent violent clashes between Israel and the Islamist organization.

IDF soldiers in the West Bank city of HebronOfen Hagai / Archive

Hamas has declared its objection to the recent relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas does not represent the Palestinian people and is not authorized to negotiate on its behalf.

Speaking to the cabinet earlier this week, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and which is believed to have operatives working in the PA-ruled West Bank, has issued "an organizational directive to foil the talks."

According to the IDF, an Israeli army unit had been conducting a raid for wanted Palestiniains in a village east of Tul Karm, when one of the wanted men, named by Israel Radio as Hamas West Bank strongman Iyad Shilbayeh, began "running suspiciously toward the [IDF] force, refusing to heed the soldiers' request to stop."

"The unit, feeling threatened, opened fire, killing the suspected," the IDF Spokesman's office said, adding that "the incident was being investigated."

Family members told the Palestinian Ma'an news agency that, contrary the the IDF's statement, Shilbaya was shot three times in the neck and chest in his bed.

One eyewitness told Ma'an that he heard his brother Iyad calling his bedroom when the soldiers entered the home, asking “who is it? Who is it? Who is it?”

"He asked the question three times, and that was followed by three bullets. He was alone sleeping in the house, his wife was visiting family in Jenin," he claimed.

Hamas has condemned the attack and sworn that Shilbaya's blood will be avenged.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a statement condemning the killing, saying it increases the weakness of the credibility of the peace process, which is already shaken.

In an escalation of tensions on Wednesday, militants fired two phosphorous mortar shells into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Strip. A total of nine mortar shells were fired on Wednesday, all falling in fields in the Eshkol Regional Council, causing no casualties or damage.

Israel responded by sending jets to bomb a smuggling tunnel in the Philadelphi Route. Palestinian sources said one person was killed and two injured in the attack.