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Hamas leader was "brutal and brilliant,' Israel says

Described by Israel as the Gaza Strip's "most brutal and brilliant terrorist," Salah Shehada spent more than a decade in Israeli and Palestinian jails and for the past three years was often in hiding as he oversaw Hamas' frequent attacks.

Shehada, 48, was killed when an Israeli warplane destroyed the Gaza City apartment where he was staying. The attack also killed 14 other Palestinians, most of them children.

Shehada was the leader of Hamas' military wing, Izzadine el-Qassam, the group that has carried out the largest number of suicide attacks, including the deadliest ones, in the current Palestinian uprising.

Israeli security sources described Shehada as deeply religious and a fervent supporter of suicide bombings. They said he had been a possible successor to Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

He directly commanded the top Hamas militants, drafted the group's attack policies against Israel and upgraded Hamas' fighting capability by introducing locally produced mortars, which have been fired at Israeli settlements, so far with little effect.

He was at the top of the Israeli army's list of wanted terrorists.

Shehada "was really the most brutal and brilliant terrorist operating in the Gaza Strip," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub said. "He was personally responsible for orchestrating attacks against hundreds of civilians over the past two years."

Known by the nom de guerre Abu Mustapha, he was accused by the Israelis of ordering numerous attacks on Israeli troops and civilians, including the killing of four soldiers in a raid on an Israeli army outpost in Gaza in January and the March killing of five teenage students in the Jewish settlement of Atzmona, also in the Gaza Strip.

A Hamas statement issued shortly after his death described him as "the hero, the leader."