Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh says 3 of his sons were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Three sons of Hamas’ top political leader were killed Wednesday by an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, and the leader accused Israel of acting in “the spirit of revenge and murder.”

Ismail Haniyeh’s sons are among the highest-profile figures to be killed in the war so far. It was not immediately clear how their deaths might affect the months-long cease-fire talks being brokered by international mediators, though Haniyeh said Hamas would not cave in to the pressure.

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The Israeli military said the men conducted militant activity in central Gaza, without elaborating.

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A man reacts next to the body of a boy killed in an Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 9, 2024.  (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Haniyeh confirmed the deaths in an interview with the Al Jazeera satellite channel, saying his sons “were martyred on the road to liberating Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

“The criminal enemy is driven by the spirit of revenge and murder and does not value any standards or laws,” he said in the phone interview.

The Israeli military described the three siblings as a cell commander and two military operatives.

In his interview with Al Jazeera, Haniyeh said the killings would not pressure Hamas into softening its positions.

“The enemy believes that by targeting the families of the leaders, it will push them to give up the demands of our people,” he said. “Anyone who believes that targeting my sons will push Hamas to change its position is delusional.”

Haniyeh lives in exile in Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV station aired footage of Haniyeh receiving the news of the deaths while visiting wounded Palestinians who have been transported to a hospital in Doha. As an aide received the news on his phone, Haniyeh nodded, looked down at the ground and slowly walked out of the room.

“There is no might and no power but by God,” Haniyeh muttered. “May God make matters easy for them.”

Al-Aqsa TV said Hazem, Ameer and Mohammed Haniyeh were killed with family members in the strike near the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. Ismail Haniyeh is originally from Shati.

The brothers were traveling with family members in a single vehicle targeted by an Israeli drone, Al-Aqsa TV said, adding that a total of six people were killed, including a daughter of Hazem Haniyeh and a son and daughter of Ameer.

Earlier, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz claimed Hamas has been defeated militarily, although he also said Israel will fight it for years to come.

“From a military point of view, Hamas is defeated. Its fighters are eliminated or in hiding” and its capabilities “crippled,” Gantz said in a statement to the media in Sderot.

But he added: “Fighting against Hamas will take time. Boys who are now in middle school will still fight in the Gaza Strip.”

Gantz reiterated the Israeli government’s commitment to go into Rafah, the city at the far southern tip of the Gaza Strip where more than half the territory’s 2.3 million people are now sheltering. “Wherever there are terrorist targets — the IDF will be there,” he said, referring to the Israeli military.

The strike came as Palestinians in Gaza marked a muted Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan, by visiting the graves of loved ones killed in the war. In the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, people sat quietly by graves surrounded by buildings destroyed by Israel’s offensive in response to the deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza a mistake and called for his government to flood the beleaguered territory with aid.

After months of supporting the war against Hamas, the White House has ramped up pressure on Israel to reach a cease-fire and taken a sterner line that has rattled the countries’ decades-old alliance and deepened Israel’s international isolation over the war.

The most serious disagreement has been over Israel’s plans for an offensive in Rafah. The rift was worsened by an Israeli airstrike last week on an aid convoy that killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen charity, most of them foreigners. Israel said the deaths were unintentional, but Biden was outraged.

Biden’s latest comments in an interview that was recorded two days after the World Central Kitchen strike and aired late Tuesday highlight the differences between Israel and the U.S. over humanitarian aid to people in Gaza, where the war has led to warnings of imminent famine for more than a million people.

“What he’s doing is a mistake. I don’t agree with his approach,” Biden told Spanish-language broadcaster Univision when asked if Netanyahu was prioritizing his political survival over Israel’s interest.

Israel halted aid deliveries to Gaza in the early days of the war, but under U.S. pressure has slowly increased the number of trucks allowed to enter the territory.

Still, aid groups say supplies are not reaching desperate people quickly enough, blaming Israeli restrictions and noting that thousands of trucks are waiting to enter Gaza. Countries have attempted less efficient ways to deliver aid, including airdrops and by sea.

Israel says its has opened up more entry points for trucks to enter and reach especially hard-hit areas like northern Gaza, an early target of Israel in the war. Israel also accuses aid groups of being too slow to deliver aid once it’s inside Gaza.

Aid groups say logistical issues and the precarious security situation — underscored by the strike on the aid workers — complicate deliveries.

Netanyahu has vowed to achieve “total victory,” pledging to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities to prevent a repeat of the Oct. 7 attacks and to return hostages captured by Hamas and others that day. He says that victory must include an offensive in Rafah.

Six months into the war, Israel is growing ever more isolated, with even its closest partner increasingly vocal about its discontent with the war’s direction and longtime trading partners like Turkey taking potentially painful economic steps to express dismay.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption, is under pressure to decide on a postwar vision for Gaza. But critics say he is delaying because he doesn’t want to anger his ultranationalist governing partners, who support resettling the Gaza Strip, which Israel withdrew from in 2005. Netanyahu has ruled out the idea.

His governing partners also oppose making significant concessions to Hamas and have threatened to exit the government — a step that would cause the ruling coalition to collapse and trigger new elections.

Israel launched the war in response to Hamas’ cross-border assault in which militants killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 people hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

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More than 33,400 Palestinians have been killed in the relentless fighting, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says most of the dead are women and children. Israel says it has killed some 12,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The war has ignited a humanitarian catastrophe. Most of the territory’s population has been displaced and with vast swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape leveled in the fighting, many areas are uninhabitable.

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