IDF Kills Hamas Hardliner in Gaza Strip Airstrike

One of the three most senior Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, Interior Minister Said Sayyam, was killed yesterday in an air strike.

Fighting in the Gaza Strip continued yesterday with the Israel Defense Forces significantly expanding its ground operations in Gaza City, and Palestinians firing at least 25 rockets against Israel. Five civilians were injured in Be'er Sheva, when a rocket hit a parked car.

The so called kitchen-cabinet was scheduled to meet last night in order to discuss whether Israel should agree to the Egyptian initiative for a cease fire.

Sayyam, 50, was killed in an air strike that targetted the home of his brother Iyad. Also killed in the attack were his son, his brother, as well as Salah Abu Shreich, head of internal security in the organization and the person responsible for the liaison between the the political and military wings of Hamas.

The Hamas interior minister was considered one of the three most influential leaders of the group in the Gaza Strip. He was considered a leading figure in the more extreme faction of the party and had close links to Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of the group.

Sayyam was a father of six. His family were refugees from Jura, near Ashdod, and lived in the Shati refugee camp. He taught at the Islamic University in Gaza between 1980-2003, and after joined the Hamas political wing.

His appointment to the Interior Ministry effectively granted him control of the Palestinian security forces. After Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 he established the Executive Force that was meant to become a sort of Hamas army, along with the police and Izz al-Din al-Qassam.

In an interview with Haaretz in November 1995, Sayyam said, "I do not hate [Israelis] for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation."

In response to a question about whether he saw a chance for change in relations between Palestinians and Israelis, he said, "It is difficult to forget what was done to us. If the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible. But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about '67 or '48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered."

Meanwhile, IDF ground forces began operating yesterday inside Gaza City. The IDF took control of one of the large residential neighborhoods of the city, Tel al-Hawa, that borders the center of the city.

Palestinian sources also reported that IDF forces were operating close to the Hamas "security quarter," in southwestern Gaza.

The Southern Command has stepped up the offensive operations of the ground forces in anticipation of a cease-fire being declared in the near future.

Senior officers said yesterday that there are probably no more than a few days until the end of the fighting.

Palestinians reported more than 50 dead yesterday during the fighting in the city. The estimated total of Palestinian casualties since the start of the fighting 20 days ago has climbed to 1095 dead and about 5000 wounded.

During the fighting, UNRWA buildings were accidentally hit by Israeli fire. A large scale blaze broke out in storehouses belonging to the UN refugee aid organization.

The Red Crescent Al Quds hospital in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood was also hit with a few rounds, and a fire was reported.

Palestinians continued to fire rockets into Israel yesterday with more than 25 rockets slamming into the country. A parked car was hit in Be'er Sheva yesterday evening and five people were injured, two seriously, including 7-year old Uriel Elazarov.

Elazarov was operated on for injuries to his head and was recuperating in the intensive care unit.

Most other rockets hit open fields, causing minor damage.

Palestinian sources reported yesterday that the "Iranian Unit" of Hamas, members of the group's military wing trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, had been destroyed.

According to the sources, most of the unit's members were killed in fighting in the Zeytun neighborhood, where they had been deployed by the military leadership of Hamas.

The unit numbered approximately 100 men who had traveled to Iran and Hezbollah camps, mostly in the Beka'a Valley, where they were trained in infantry fighting tactics. The militants were also trained in the use of anti-tank missiles, the detonation of explosives, among other skills.

They managed to return to the Gaza Strip through tunnels in the Rafah border area, although a few also crossed during one of the few times that Egypt agreed to open the border crossing as a gesture of good will to Hamas.

The same sources also noted that Iran is preparing for an end to the fighting, at which point they want to send money to the Gaza Strip in order to assist Hamas in rebuilding destroyed homes - but also restore its military capabilities.