Three top Hamas commanders – including the man held responsible for Gilad Shalit’s abduction – were killed by an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday night.

Together with Mohammed Barhoum, who has been on Israel’s most wanted list since 1992, Raed al-Attar and Mohammed Abu Shamala were also killed.

They were regarded two top military figures in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Israeli security agency Shin Bet, with Shamala described by the IDF as “the most senior terror operative” there.

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Israeli F-15 fighter jets

In the past he has been involved in several attacks, including the 2006 Kerem Shalom incident during which two IDF soldiers were killed and Gilad Shalit was taken hostage. During the first phase of the current operation, Shamala commanded the Hamas militants who entered Israel via a tunnel near the kibbutz of Sufa on 17 July.

Attar’s unit was held responsible for the killing and abduction of Lt. Hadar Goldin during the first phase of the fighting and he was involved in another incident in which IDF soldiers were killed. Attar responsibility included the construction of all the tunnels in the south of the Strip, which he used to carry out several attacks.

The successful targeting of the southern commanders on follows Tuesday’s attempt on the life of Hamas military chief Mohammad Deif, in a bombing raid that flattened his home and killed his wife and infant son. Deif is believed to have not been at home, but confirmation of his escape could take months.

At a press conference on Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said senior Hamas leaders were “legitimate military targets” in its military operation against the militant group that rules in Gaza.

“Operation Protective Edge has not ended, not for a moment – this is an ongoing campaign,” he said.