- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A Hamas militant leader who has topped Israel’s most-wanted list for a decade was badly wounded and underwent four hours of spinal surgery yesterday after an Israeli F-16 warplane dropped a quarter-ton bomb that killed nine members of one family, security officials said.

The top fugitive, Mohammed Deif, could end up paralyzed, Palestinian security officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his condition. Yesterday’s blast marked the army’s fourth attempt to kill Mr. Deif, held responsible for suicide bombings in Israel. In a 2002 missile strike, he lost an eye.

Yesterday’s air strike on a home in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood was by far the deadliest in Israel’s 15-day military campaign in Gaza, launched after Hamas-allied militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Israel’s air force targeted the two-story house of Nabil Abu Salmiyeh, a Hamas activist and university lecturer, after getting intelligence information that the leaders of Hamas’ military wing, responsible for the abduction of the soldier, were meeting there. Palestinian security officials said seven or eight top Hamas officials were present.

The blast wounded 37 persons, three critically, said Health Minister Bassem Naim. Hospital officials said Raed Saad, a top Hamas operative, was among the wounded, but details of his condition weren’t released.

Mr. Abu Salmiyeh, his wife, and seven of his nine children, ages 4 to 18, all died.

“I heard a really loud explosion, and then I felt the ceiling fall on top of me. I was buried under the rubble,” said Awad Abu Salmiyeh, 19, who along with an older brother were the only family members to survive.

The bombardment brought down the house and buried residents under the rubble. Rescue workers pulled out the mangled body of a young child.

Hamas militants took over the intensive-care unit at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital yesterday. Several people were being treated, including some in critical condition, medical officials said. Black-uniformed Hamas gunmen stood guard. A large bearded man blocked people from entering, permitting only a team of doctors and top Hamas officials, such as Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, to pass.

The guard angrily declined to say who was being treated.

Israeli officials accused the militants of using civilians as a shield by meeting in a private home.

“Israel is compelled to take action against those planning to unleash lethal terror attacks against Israeli citizens,” said David Baker, an official in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Palestinian terrorist leaders continue to take refuge among, and hide behind, their own civilians.”

Israel launched its military campaign after Palestinian militants captured the Israeli soldier June 25. Israel has rejected demands that it release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for the soldier and has instead stepped up its offensive in Gaza.

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