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Israeli airstrike kills Hamas leader

Palestinian group vows revenge

Palestinians inspect the wreckage of the car carrying al-Ghoul.
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike killed a senior commander of Hamas who was known as a master bombmaker Thursday night as he rode in a vehicle in Gaza City with his bodyguard, Hamas and the Israeli military said. The bodyguard also died in the attack.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said the group's senior commander, Adnan al-Ghoul, was killed in the airstrike, and said his group will seek revenge.

Also killed in Thursday's attack was Imad al-Abbas, al-Ghoul's Palestinian bodyguard.

The Israel Defense Forces said al-Ghoul was the intended target of the strike because he was "the leading Hamas figure responsible for the developing and the production of Qassam rockets."

"Al-Ghoul's knowledge was used to manufacture explosive devices for deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in which dozens of Israelis were murdered and hundreds were injured," the IDF said in a statement.

"The IDF is determined to protect Israeli citizens and IDF forces by operating against any group or individual that carries out terrorist activity or supports it."

The IDF also alleged that al-Ghoul enjoyed full immunity from Palestinian security forces and operated in coordination with senior Palestinian security officials.

Al-Ghoul, the senior commander, was a reputed master bombmaker in the military wing of Hamas. He survived at least one Israeli airstrike two years ago that killed his son.

Al-Ghoul has been on Israel's list of wanted Palestinians for more than 10 years.

According to the IDF, al-Ghoul was the leading Hamas expert in preparing explosive devices in Gaza. The military said since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000 he was "responsible for the manufacturing of the Hamas weaponry in the Gaza Strip," including the first and second generations of the Qassam rocket.

"In addition, he was working to produce new anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry," the IDF said.

Al-Ghoul is believed to have prepared the explosive devices used in suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem in the winter of 1996, as revenge for the killing of Ayash. Israeli defense officials blame al-Ghoul for killing almost 100 Israelis and wounding hundreds more.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he studied under "the engineer" Yihye Ayash, who was killed by Israel in December 1995 with a booby-trapped cellphone.

In response to the airstrike, Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said, "We condemn the assassination, and it's a further indication that Israel chooses the military route rather than the political one."

In other Gaza violence Thursday, an Israeli soldier was slain near Rafah in southern Gaza, close to the border with Egypt. The troops were searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels along the border at the time, the officials said.

It was not certain if the soldier was killed by an explosion or an anti-tank rocket, they said.

Palestinian sources confirmed that militants attacked soldiers in the area.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli military officials and Palestinian sources said at least one crude Qassam rocket was fired from northern Gaza into Israel. Israeli military officials said the rocket landed in an open field and caused no injuries.

CNN's Yoav Appel contributed to this report.

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