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Who is Mohammed Deif, the Hamas commander behind the attack on Israel?


Who is Mohammed Deif, the Hamas commander behind the attack on Israel?
The remains of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel lies on a road where it fell in Ashkelon, southern Israel
  • Deif is secretive chief of Hamas military wing in Gaza
  • Held responsible for deaths of dozens in suicide attacks
  • Took two years to plan Saturday's assault
  • Cites 'rage' over Israeli raids on Al Aqsa mosque
DUBAI, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Israel calls last week's devastating attack by Hamas its 9/11 moment. The secretive mastermind behind the assault, Palestinian militant Mohammed Deif, calls it Al Aqsa Flood.
The phrase Israel's most wanted man used in an audio tape broadcast as Hamas fired thousands of rockets out of the Gaza strip on Saturday signalled the attack was payback for Israeli raids at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque.
It was in May 2021, after a raid on Islam's third holiest site that enraged the Arab and Muslim world, when Deif began planning the operation that has killed 1,200 people in Israel and wounded more than 2,700, a source close to Hamas said.
"It was triggered by scenes and footage of Israel storming Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, beating worshippers, attacking them, dragging elderly and young men out of the mosque," the source in Gaza said. "All this fuelled and ignited the anger."
That storming of the mosque compound, long a flashpoint for violence over matters of sovereignty and religion in Jerusalem, helped set off 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
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More than two years on, Saturday's assault, the worst breach in Israeli defences since the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict, pushed Israel to declare war and launch retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza that have killed 1,055 people and wounded more than 5,000.
Israel also said on Wednesday it had killed at least 1,000 Palestinian gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza.
A survivor of seven Israeli assassination attempts, the most recent in 2021, Deif rarely speaks and never appears in public. So when Hamas's TV channel announced he was about to speak on Saturday, Palestinians knew something significant was afoot.
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"Today the rage of Al Aqsa, the rage of our people and nation is exploding. Our mujahedeen (fighters), today is your day to make this criminal understand that his time has ended," Deif said in the recording.
There are only three images of Deif: one in his 20s, another of him masked, and an image of his shadow, which was used when the audio tape was broadcast.
The whereabouts of Deif are unknown, though he is most likely in Gaza in the maze of tunnels under the enclave. An Israeli security source said Deif was directly involved in the planning and operational aspects of the attack.
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Palestinian sources said one of the homes Israeli airstrikes hit in Gaza belonged to Deif's father. Deif's brother and two other family members were killed, according to the sources.


The source close to Hamas said the decision to prepare the attack was taken jointly by Deif, who commands Hamas's Al Qassam Brigades, along with Yehya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, but it was clear who was the architect.
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"There are two brains, but there is one mastermind," the source said, adding that information about the operation was known only to a handful of Hamas leaders.
Secrecy was such that Iran, Israel's sworn foe and an important source of finance, training and weaponry for Hamas, knew only in general terms that the movement was planning a major operation and did not know the timing or the details, a regional source familiar with the group's thinking said.
The source said that while Tehran was aware a major operation was being prepared, it was not discussed in any joint operation rooms involving Hamas, the Palestinian leadership, Iranian-backed Lebanese militants Hezbollah, and Iran.
"It was a very tight circle," the source said.
Iran's top authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran was not involved in the attack on Israel. Washington has said while Tehran was complicit, it had no intelligence or evidence that points to Iran's direct participation in the attacks.
The plan as conceived by Deif involved a prolonged effort at deception. Israel was led to believe that Hamas, an ally of Israel's sworn foe Iran, was not interested in launching a conflict and was focusing instead on economic development in Gaza, where the movement is the governing power.
But while Israel began providing economic incentives to Gazan workers, the group's fighters were being trained and drilled, often in plain sight of the Israeli military, a source close to Hamas said.
"We have prepared for this battle for two years," said Ali Baraka, the head of external relations for Hamas.
Speaking in a calm voice, Deif said in his recording that Hamas had repeatedly warned Israel to stop its crimes against Palestinians, to release prisoners, whom he said were abused and tortured, and to halt its expropriation of Palestinian land.
"Every day the occupation storm our villages, towns and cities in the West Bank and raid houses, kill, injure, destroy and detain. At the same time, it confiscates thousands of acres of our land, uproots our people from their houses to build settlements while its criminal siege continues on Gaza."


For well over a year, there has been turmoil in the West Bank, an area about 100 km (60 miles) long and 50 km wide that has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since it was seized by Israel in 1967.
Deif said Hamas had urged the international community to put an end to the "crimes of the occupation", but Israel had stepped up its provocation. He also said Hamas had in the past asked Israel for a humanitarian deal to release Palestinian prisoners, but this was rejected.
"In light of the orgy of occupation and its denial of international laws and resolutions, and in light of American and western support and international silence, we've decided to put an end to all this," he said.
Born as Mohammad Masri in 1965 in the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp set up after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the militant leader became known as Mohammed Deif after joining Hamas during the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which began in 1987.
He was arrested by Israel in 1989 and spent about 16 months in detention, a Hamas source said.
Deif earned a degree in science from the Islamic University in Gaza, where he studied physics, chemistry and biology. He displayed an affinity for the arts, heading the university's entertainment committee and performing on stage in comedies.
Rising up the Hamas ranks, Deif developed the group's network of tunnels and its bomb-making expertise. He has topped Israel's most wanted list for decades, held personally responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.
For Deif, staying in the shadow has been a matter of life or death. Hamas sources said he lost an eye and sustained serious injuries in one leg in one of Israel's assassination attempts.
His wife, 7-month-old son, and 3-year-old daughter were killed by an Israeli air strike in 2014.
His survival while running Hamas's armed wing has earned him the status of a Palestinian folk hero. In videos he is masked, or just a shadow of him is seen. He doesn't use modern digital technology such as smart phones, the source close to Hamas said.
"He is elusive. He is the man in the shadows."

Editing by William Maclean and David Clarke

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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Mohammed Deif, the Voice of War​

An old photo of Mohammed Deif (AFP)

An old photo of Mohammed Deif (AFP)
08:21-8 October 2023 AD ـ 24 Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1445 AH

In a clear, loud, direct voice and a shadowy image, the commander of Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades, Mohammed "Abu Khaled" Deif, announced the start of "al-Aqsa Flood" operation against Israel, putting it under fire for several hours.

Israel has not experienced a similar situation since the Egyptian crossing in 1973, with rockets falling on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after al-Qassam fighters took control over several Israeli settlements and sites.
Hamas members set out and took control of Israeli sites, killing Israelis and taking others hostages, following the orders of Deif, who proved once again that he had the highest Palestinian say in launching or ending a war.
Who is Deif?
No one knows Deif except his family and a small group of Hamas members. Most of them do not know the whereabouts of the man Israel has been pursuing for decades as No. 1 wanted individual.
Currently, there are three pictures of Deif: a very old one, another of him masked, and an image of his shadow.
Even Israel, which boasts that it has the most powerful intelligence in the world, does not have a recent picture of the commander.
In January 2011, Deif's mother died. All Hamas leaders attended the funeral except for him. It is unknown whether he attended, as some say he was there, while others claim he didn't show up for security reasons. Some also claim he was at the burial disguised as an older man.
He is described as intelligent, quick-witted, and does not like appearing in public. He does not use technology and rarely broadcasts audio messages, only to announce the beginning of a new battle with Israel.
Deif has not appeared in public places for nearly three decades, or as those asked by Asharq Al-Awsat in Gaza say: "If we had looked at him, we would not have known him."
Deif's high sense of security may explain how Israel has been incapable of finding him.
The commander has been wanted by Israel since the mid-nineties when former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres asked Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to arrest him before Arafat expressed his surprise at the name as if he did not know him.
Peres later admitted that he discovered that Arafat was protecting him, hiding him, and lying about him.
Israel tried to kill him more than once and wounded him twice.
Mohamed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, dubbed Deif, was born in 1965 to a Palestinian refugee family from al-Qubeiba and settled in the Khan Yunis camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
Deif grew up in a very low-income family and was forced to leave school temporarily to support his family. He worked with his father in spinning and upholstery, then established a small poultry farm and worked as a driver.
The commander's friends in his neighborhood say he was gentle, had a good sense of humor, and a good heart.
Deif joined the Hamas movement at the end of 1987. He returned to school and received his education at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he graduated in 1988 after obtaining a bachelor's degree in science.
During this time, Deif created the Islamic theater group al-Ayedun, as he is known for his passion for acting. He played several theatrical roles, including historical figures.
Deif was responsible for the technical committee during his Islamic University Student Council activity.
Israel arrested him in 1989, and he spent 16 months in prison without trial on charges of working in the movement's military apparatus.
After his release, Deif and other figures began establishing al-Qassam Brigades.
During the 1990s, he supervised and participated in countless operations against Israel.
The Palestinian Authority arrested him in May 2000 at the request of Israel. He had a good relationship with the Authority, and his arrest was part of the understanding.
In 2002, he assumed command of al-Qassam after the assassination of its commander-in-chief, Salah Shehadeh.
In 2001, Israel first attempted to assassinate Deif. A second attempt was made a year later when an Apache helicopter fired two missiles at his vehicle, wounding him. Hamas leader and doctor Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi treated him at an undisclosed location.
In 2003, an Israeli plane attempted to assassinate Deif and some Hamas leaders in a house in Gaza. But the missile hit the wrong floor.
Three years later, a high-explosive missile hit a house where he met with Al-Qassam leaders. Once again, Deif survived, but Israel said he was seriously injured.
Israeli officials believe Deif can't walk and has lost one of his eyes. But Hamas has not confirmed or denied those claims.
Deif dispatched two recordings in recent years, using a silhouette dark image. Years later, he emerged masked while standing on his feet.