An elite Israeli military unit killed Hamas's military commander in Samaria, Muhanad Taher, in a raid on his home in Nablus Sunday night. Israeli officials said Taher and his men were responsible for the deaths of 121 Israelis including the suicide bombing attack on a Jerusalem bus on June 18, in which 19 people were killed. Hamas vowed to avenge Taher's death.
Military sources insisted that the navy commando unit did not "liquidate" Taher, but "killed him during an exchange of gunfire." Though security sources told Ha'aretz that the objective of the operation was to kill Taher, and that no attempt was made to arrest him, IDF officers said that the elite force ordered him to surrender. "If he would have come out with his hands raised, he would not have been hurt," they said.
According to media reports, IDF forces, including armored units and engineering corps, surrounded Taher's home after weeks of intelligence gathering as to his whereabouts. In the course of an hour-long gun battle, Taher was killed, as was his deputy, Imad Darauze. A third "wanted" Hamas member, identified as Omer Masri, was seriously wounded, and transferred by IDF medics to a hospital in Israel. At the end of the operation, an Israeli bulldozer destroyed the house, as well as a nearby structure that served as a Hamas command post.
Taher, known as "the Engineer-4" for his bomb-making abilities, reportedly topped Israel's most-wanted list. During the last two months, Taher served as commander of Hamas's military wing in the West Bank, and was responsible for building explosive devices, recruiting suicide bombers, and planning terror attacks in Israel. Taher, a former student at Nablus's An-Najah University, joined Hamas in the mid-90s and was a member of a cell led by Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, who was killed by the IDF in November 2001.
"This is the most important operation of the last two months and the most significant achievement," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio. "We are speaking of a killer, a planner, an 'engineer,' who caused more than 117 Israelis to be murdered."
Ben-Eliezer said that there was no lack of "engineers," but added that Taher was in a class by himself. "There was no terror attack in the last three months, from the hotel in Netanya (where 29 people were killed in a Passover Seder bombing) to the Pat road bombing (in Jerusalem, where 19 died in a suicide bombing attack on a city bus), including all the restaurants - in which his hand did not play a part."
Shin Bet and army officials expressed satisfaction with Taher's death. Military sources told Maariv that his absence would lead to a significant drop in terror attacks, at least in the immediate future. But the sources added that Hamas terrorists have recruited additional suicide bombers, and have stocks of explosive belts prepared in advance by Taher and his men.
"The assassination (of Taher) will increase Hamas's determination to continue Jihad and resistance," said Ismail Haniya, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip. "Hamas will never forget the blood of its martyrs."
Ellis Shuman Israelinsider