Palestinians Claim Men Killed in Gaza Blast Were Senior Hamas Militants Who Thwarted Israeli Intel Plan

Arab media reports an increase in security operations in the Strip amid heightened concerns that Hamas officials will be targeted

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018.
Adel Hana/AP

Hamas' military wing, the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, claimed Sunday that the men killed in the blast in the Gaza Strip on Saturday had thwarted an Israeli intelligence plan. "The dead deciphered a complex mechanism to protect the Palestinian people," Hamas' armed wing said.

A Palestinian source in the Gaza Strip told Haaretz on Sunday morning that of the six men killed in an explosion in central Gaza on Saturday, the vast majority were part of the communications unit of Hamas' military wing.

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Most of the men killed, the source added, had senior roles in the unit. Hamas security establishment staff prohibited media outlets in the Strip to publish details about yesterday's explosion.

The Ashraq Al-Awsat daily newspaper based in London reported Sunday morning that Hamas has increased security measurements to protect its most senior members, with Ismail Haniyeh at their helm. Hamas security mechanisms fear assassination attempts, and the security measurements to safeguard Western as well as Arab diplomatic delegations in the Strip have been increased as well.  

Also Sunday morning, Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio in an interview that the country will continue "a resolute policy [using] all the tools possible against Hamas terrorists." When asked if the explosion was part of the tools mentioned, Bennett said that "you can't attribute it to Israel every time someone dies in Gaza."

Six people were killed and three others were wounded in the explosion, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said. The blast took place in Deir al-Balah, a city located in the central Gaza Strip. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

The wounded and the bodies of the dead were brought to a hospital. The Health Ministry identified the dead as Taher Shahin, 29, Wissam Abu Mahrouk, 37, Musa Salman, 30, Mahmoud al-Ustaz, 34, Mahmoud al-Touashi, 27 and Mahmoud al-Qishawi, 27.

A Palestinian source told Haaretz that all signs pointed to an explosion resulting from the handling of explosives inside a building and that there were signs that the casualties were operatives in Hamas' military wing.

One report said that the blast occurred during an attempt to defuse a missile or dud that failed to explode during 2014's Operation Protective Edge.

Hamas' military wing however blamed Israel in a statement and said a "heinous crime has been committed against our fighters."

The Israeli military denied involvement in the explosion. "The IDF (Israel Defense Force) is not involved in this incident in any way," an Israeli military spokesman said, as reported by Reuters.