A senior military leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, was killed late Thursday in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.
Adnan Ghoul, 46, who oversaw the manufacture of Qassam rockets and other major weapons for Hamas, was killed about 9:30 p.m. when an Israeli drone fired two missiles at him as he was leaving a building on Jaffa Street, in the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Shegeya, a Hamas stronghold, according to Palestinian security sources and hospital officials.
Emad Abbas, a senior field commander for Hamas and a top aide to Ghoul, also was killed in the attack, according to Palestinian security and hospital officials.
The Israeli military confirmed that Ghoul was the target of the strike, saying he was responsible for attacks dating back more than 10 years in which dozens of Israelis were killed and hundreds more wounded. An Israeli military spokeswoman said Ghoul had joined the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security agency in the mid-1990s and alleged that he "enjoyed full immunity from the Palestinian security apparatus and operated in full coordination with Palestinian security officials."
Widely considered one of the founders of Hamas, Ghoul was known to have survived at least three assassination attempts by Israeli forces. Like most senior figures in Hamas, he lived undercover and rarely appeared in public. Witnesses said they believed the building he was leaving when he was killed was his house. His death was witnessed by his son, they said.
The killings came almost a week after the Israeli army ended a 17-day operation in the Gaza Strip that was designed to prevent Palestinian guerrillas from firing rockets and mortars at Jewish settlements in the strip and at communities inside Israel. Five Israelis, one foreign worker and 114 Palestinians were killed during the operation.
There has been a general rise in violence in Gaza in recent months following a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which is to be voted on by Israel's parliament early next week, to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the strip. Palestinian leaders contend that Israel is retreating under fire, while Israel is seeking to show that it is leaving on its own terms.
Earlier Thursday, an Israeli soldier was killed in the southern Gaza Strip while investigating a tunnel under the Egyptian border, an Israeli military spokeswoman said. Hamas asserted responsibility for the killing.
First Sgt. Maj. Moshe Elimelech, 35, was investigating a tunnel in the Philadelphi corridor -- a swath of cleared land along the border -- when he was killed by an explosion about 2:30 p.m., the spokeswoman said. Military investigators were working Thursday night to determine the cause of the blast but had not ruled out the possibility that the tunnel was booby-trapped, she said.
[Witnesses reported that Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved about 100 yards into the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza early Friday, according to the Associated Press. Israeli military sources confirmed that an operation was underway.]
Special correspondent Islam Abdulkarim in Gaza City contributed to this report.