Friday, March 9, 2012

Israel kills leading Palestinian resistance figure

Palestinians look at the remains of a vehicle after it exploded in Gaza City 9 March 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Suhaib Salem)

Israel killed the leader of a Palestinian militant faction on Friday in a targeted attack on a car in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said.

A former prisoner released last year in an Israeli-Hamas prisoner exchange deal also died in the blast, while a third person was injured.

The blast set a small metallic blue car ablaze. At least two of the victims were inside the vehicle when the explosion occurred, witnesses said.

Reuters television footage showed one charred body being carried away from the scene.

The Israeli official said one of the dead was Zuhair al-Qessi, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which is an umbrella group that draws together armed activists from different factions.

Mahmoud Hanani, a former prisoner freed in the deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, was also killed, a Gaza health ministry official said.

If confirmed, he would be the first of the 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in the deal to be killed by an Israeli strike.

Al-Qessi was elected chief of the PRC last August after Israel killed his predecessor in an airstrike in the southern Gazan town of Rafah.

Israel routinely carries out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, despite Hamas observing a tacit truce and maintaining restraint.

Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said in December that Israel should launch a new "swift and painful" war against the Hamas-ruled territory.

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