US says top Hamas leader Marwan Issa killed in Israeli airstrike

Israeli forces have killed a top Hamas commander directly linked to the 7 October attack, the White House said on Monday.

Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, was among Israel’s list of most wanted men and put on European Union’s terrorist blacklist. He was linked to the deadly Hamas attack in southern Israel in which around 1,200 people were killed.

“Hamas’s No 3, Marwan Issa, was killed in an Israeli operation last week,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan said during a White House press briefing.

“The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network, and justice will come for them too.

“We are helping to ensure that,” said Mr Sullivan.

He said Joe Biden and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone on Monday. The US president emphasised during the call his “bone-deep commitment to ensuring the long-term security of Israel and [re]-affirm[ing]…that Israel has a right to go after Hamas, the perpetrators of the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust”.

The US president also warned Mr Netanyahu that an Israeli military operation in Rafah would deepen the anarchy in Gaza.

Mr Sullivan told reporters the two countries would have a comprehensive discussion on the way forward in Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis is raging after five months of fighting.

The meeting could happen this week or next and no Rafah operation would proceed before the talks, Mr Sullivan said.

“Anarchy reigns in areas that Israel’s military has cleared, but not stabilised” in Gaza and a humanitarian crisis would deepen if Israel were to go ahead with an offensive in Rafah, Mr Sullivan said, summarising Mr Biden’s message to the Israeli PM.

“We’ve had many discussions in many different levels between our military, our intelligence, our diplomats or humanitarian experts, but we have not yet had the opportunity to have an all-encompassing comprehensive, integrated, strategic discussion…,” he said.

The two leaders have had increasingly tense relations over Gaza. Mr Sullivan described the conversation as “businesslike” and said it did not end abruptly. Mr Biden did not threaten to limit US aid to Israel, he said.

The call was the first between the two leaders since 15 February and comes amid sharp tensions between Israel and US – its most steadfast ally – over Mr Netanyahu’s handling of the war.

Israeli officials characterised last week’s airstrike as a breakthrough in their campaign against Hamas, even as experts cautioned that Issa’s death is unlikely to have a devastating effect on military leadership of Hamas.

Born in 1965 in the Bureij area of Central Gaza, Issa served as a deputy to Mohammed Deif, leader of Qassam Brigades of Hamas’s military wing. He took over the role after another top commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated, according to The New York Times.

Last week, the Israel Defence Forces announced targeting Issa during their airstrikes, however, they were not able to confirm his death. Following the attack, Hamas’s network went silent for 72 hours, reported The Guardian on Sunday.

Following the attack, Mr Netanyahu issued a statement about the military’s strategic success. “We are on our way to complete victory…we have already killed number four in the Hamas; three, two, and one are on the way,” he said.

Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas, described Issa as “part of the front rank of the military wing’s leadership”, while former Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Tamir Hayman in an interview with the NYT called him Hamas’s “defence minister” and the group’s “strategic mind”.

However, Mr Awawdeh warned that Issa’s death should be confused with the group’s ability to survive. “There’s always a replacement,” he said. “I don’t think the assassination of any member of the military wing will have an effect on its activities.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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