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Israeli army assassinates Hamas leader

Sept. 17, 2010 9:55 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 21, 2010 9:05 A.M.)
Correction appended

TULKAREM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces entered the home of a Hamas leader in Tulkarem on Friday morning and shot him three times in the neck and chest before withdrawing, family members said.

Medics at the Thabit Thabit Hospital in Tulkarem confirmed that 38-year-old Iyad As’ad Shelbaya, a known Hamas leader, was dead, killed by three bullets to the neck and chest.

Shelbaya lived in the Nur Shams refugee camp east of Tulkarem. Security sources said he was assassinated during a raid on his home at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning.

Officials said several armored vehicles entered the area to carry out the assassination. Palestinian forces were said to have coordinated with the Israeli military in getting Shelbaya's body from his home to the hospital.

Accounts from family members say Shelbaya's brother Mohammed was abducted by soldiers earlier in the morning, and forced to show officers the way to Iyad's home.

Once at the home, witnesses said soldiers placed explosives at the main door, destroying the entry way and entering the home.

Several soldiers were then described entering the home, at which point three gunshots were heard. Medics confirmed three shots killed the man, one in the neck and two in the chest.

Shelbaya's body was then removed from the home.

Mohammed told Ma'an that he heard his brother Iyad calling from his bedroom when the soldiers entered the home, asking “Who is it? Who is it? Who is it?”

"He asked the question three times, and that was followed by three bullets. He was alone sleeping in the house, his wife was visiting family in Jenin," he said.

See photos of the scene of the assassination here.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the death, but gave a different version of events.

"During an arrest raid in the Palestinian village of Nur Shams, one suspect began running for the force," the spokesman said. "He did not comply with soldiers who requested that he halt."

The spokesman said that soldiers "felt threatened" by the behavior of the man, and "fired on the suspect."

Israeli rights group says military report not likely

A field worker for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem who investigated the scene called the slaying "unjustified."

Speaking with Ma'an less than 12 hours after the attack, Eid As-Sa’di said Israeli statements as to how the death occurred were implausible.

"It would have been possible to arrest him, or just as easily to injure him," he said.

The rights worker said that the room where Iyad was shot was no more than three meters by three meters, and expressed skepticism over the report that the known Hamas leader had come running at troops, that soldiers had had time to warn him to stop, and then shoot.

As-Sa'di said that an investigation by B'Tselem was ongoing, and said details of the event were still emerging.

Dozens detained overnight

During the raid on the camp, nine other Hamas affiliates were detained from their homes.

Security sources identified those detained as: Mohmmad Abu Al-Kheir, Kamal Masharqah, Tayseer Jaber, Sheikh Mahmoud Al-Ghoul, Ashraf Fouda, Nedal Abu Helal, Nedal Abu Tharefah, Mohammad Abu Deiyah and Ahmad A’sa’s.

Fourth assassination in nine months

On 26 December 2009, Israeli forces entered the city of Nablus, proceeded toward the homes of Raed Sakarji, 38, Anan Subih, 33, and Ghassan Abu Sharkh, 40, in two cases entered the homes and shot the men, and in a third, executed Abu Sharkh in front of his home.

A statement from the Israeli military said soldiers "entered Nablus in an attempt to locate and arrest the men suspected of involvement in the murder of Meir Avshalom Hai this past Thursday." The statement said the deaths were provoked by the suspects.

Testimony from witnesses, and blood evidence in hallways and bedrooms, showed the men were shot in their homes.

"We were sleeping in our bedroom, not bigger than six square meters, when Israeli soldiers began yelling 'get out, get out.' I thought I was dreaming. When I heard the Israeli soldiers and their police dogs outside the room, that was when I realized it was real," Tahani, the wife of Raed Sarakji told Ma'an at the time.

Tahani said her husband told soldiers he would get out of the house, so they started shooting through the door and the windows. “He fell between my hands bleeding. I started crying 'they killed him, they killed him.' Then soldiers broke the door and got in. He was already dead, but they continued to riddle his body with bullets to make sure he was killed."

A similar account was given by the cousin of Ghassan Abu Sharkh, "Everything happened very quickly… when we opened the door and saw the soldiers, two masked collaborators pointed to my brother Ghassan who was walking down the stairs. Before I knew it he was being shot. I couldn’t really make sense of what was going on at all. Then an Israeli officer asked me whether the dead man was Ghassan, and I said yes. 'Good, then ask everybody to leave the house,' the officer said."

"I was standing close to Ghassan when they killed him. They could have detained him very easily. He passed to join my brother Nayif who was killed by Israeli forces a few years ago [2004]."

The third account was given by Farid Subih, 45, whose younger brother, Anan Subih, 33 was killed.

"At 3 a.m., dozens of Israeli troops surrounded our four-storey building. They blew open the the main gate then started shooting randomly and throwing grenades in all directions. Anan was inside, and he asked everybody to leave the building to avoid being hurt.”

He continued, "We headed to the nearby house of the Al-'Amoudi family. Then soldiers entered the house with police dogs, and they started throwing more grenades, and a fire erupted in the warehouse full of plastic chairs and sponge material.

"My brother was not armed, but we could see soldiers continue to ransack the house. For three hours, we didn’t know what was going on. After the soldiers left, we found Anan dead … bullets tore all his body and bones."

According to the Israeli military, "When he was killed, Annan Tzubach [Subih] was armed with a handgun and hiding two M16 assault rifles, an additional handgun, and ammunition." The same statement, however, said that "During an attempt to arrest him tonight [Saturday], Annan was killed after an exchange of fire with the IDF while he was found in a hiding place along with weapons and ammunition."

(This version CORRECTS that the military did not say Iyad was running toward the forest but in fact toward an Israeli force.)

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