Top Hamas Man Killed in Hebron Raid

Death not an assassination; Hamas threatens revenge

The IDF killed Abdullah Qawasmeh last night, the man believed to be the senior commander of Hamas in the Hebron area. The incident occurred last night in Hebron during an operation by the special anti-terrorist squad of the Border Police.

Qawasmeh was the commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas, in the Hebron region, and on the most wanted list of the IDF for some months. Security sources have attributed direct responsibility to Qawasmeh in the killing of more than 40 Israelis during recent suicide bombings and ambushes.

While the IDF did not release details of the incident last night, it made it clear that the operation was not part of the "targeted interception" policy, more commonly known as assassination. Security sources said Qawasmeh was killed while resisting arrest at a hideout in Hebron. Qawasmeh was armed and tried to escape when he was shot and killed.

Security sources assumed Hamas would issue warnings of revenge strikes against Israeli targets. However, they played down the Hamas threats by saying there are dozens of warnings, irrespective of present operations, and point to the attack on Friday by the organization, at the Eli settlement, north of Ramallah, where Avi Goldstein was killed and three members of his family were injured.

In recent weeks, the two year hunt for Qawasmeh, believed to be 30, was intensified because the Hamas operations under his leadership had grown threatening and lethal. While in other areas the Security Services have had successes in arresting or assassinating the heads of the local Hamas organization, in the Hebron area they encountered difficulties gathering intelligence on the cells operating there.

Qawasmeh, and his deputy, Ahmed Bader, who is still at large, are believed to be directly responsible for some of the most recent deadly suicide bombings. The two ran a network of teens, most members of an Islamic soccer club in the Hebron area, Masjad al-Rabat, who volunteered to carry out suicide bombings. Some of the teens were friends from the same neighborhood, Abu Kitla, which borders the campus of the Hebron University.

Late last year, the Hamas moved to the area a bomb-making expert, an "engineer" according to the local parlance, Ali Alan, from the area of Bethlehem to Hebron. His role was to rejuvenate the organizations activities in the area, which was until then considered to be low-keyed.

In addition to his cooperation with Qawasmeh and Bader, Alan also set up a group of suicide bombers and trained others in bomb-making. Alan was killed in a clash with reservists south of Bethlehem, but he had left a sufficiently competent organization behind that could continue operations.

Originally, Qawasmeh began his work in the Hamas welfare organization, providing for the families of those killed in the intifada. However, at some point he moved on to the military wing of the organization and rose to be in charge of funding the operations, the general selection of the targets, the choice of timing for the operations, and in some cases, the recruitment of the suicide bombers.

Among the operations attributed to Qawasmeh are the shooting of three IDF soldiers near Yata, in January; the suicide bombing on a bus in Haifa, in March, which killed 17; the murder of a couple in Kiryat Arba during a suicide bombing; two suicide bombings in Jerusalem, one claimed seven lives, the other only killed the bomber; the suicide bombing on bus 14 in Jerusalem, 11 days ago, where 17 Israelis were killed.

After Qawasmeh's death there are still a number of senior Hamas operative in the Hebron region, including his deputy, Bader.