August 2, 2014 GAZA CITY — On a narrow, rubble-strewn Gaza street, where an Israeli airstrike recently obliterated the home of a top Hamas leader, a group of boys and men praised a shadowy, middle-age man most Palestinians have never seen — and whom Israel is eager to kill.
‘He’s a role model for us,’ declared Ahmed, 32, a Hamas security detail, clutching a walkie-talkie. ‘He’s a legend for the children, for everyone in Gaza.’
‘He is defending our homeland,’ agreed Yassin Abu Rialah, 14.
To Israelis, Mohammed Deif is enemy number one. As the top commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, Deif has tormented the Jewish state for three decades, deploying suicide bombers and directing the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. He has survived several attempts by Israel to assassinate him, earning him the nickname ‘the cat with nine lives.’
Deif, according to Israeli military and intelligence officials, is the mastermind of the Palestinian militant group’s current strategy of firing rockets at Israel and building tunnel networks through which highly trained fighters can infiltrate Israel. Those and other tactics have killed 63 Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel since the war began July 8, making Deif the most wanted man in Gaza.”
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