Slain Palestinian militant lived with constant threat of Israel

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

The bearded Shehadeh, 48, was killed when an Israeli warplane destroyed the Gaza City apartment where he was staying, taking the lives of 14 other Palestinians, most of them children.

Shehadeh was the leader of Hamas' military wing, Izzadine al-Qassem, 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 Shehadeh as deeply religious, a fervent supporter of suicide bombings and 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.

Topped most wanted list

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

Shehadeh "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."

Shehadeh was born in Gaza in 1953 to parents who fled the Arab town of Jaffa, today part of Tel Aviv, during the 1948 Mideast war that broke out at Israel's independence.

Israeli military intelligence described him as a star pupil at the high school in Gaza City's Beach Refugee Camp, which he attended before going on to study social work in Alexandria, Egypt.

After his return to Gaza he attended the Islamic University, became active in Islamic politics and joined the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

The Palestinian think-tank PASSIA said that shortly after the December 1987 outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, Shehadeh, along with Yassin and several other brotherhood members, founded the radical Hamas organization.

Shehadeh and Yassin were captured by the Israelis and imprisoned in 1988. Yassin was freed in 1997.