Sharon calls strike 'one of our biggest successes'

Fifteen people have been killed and more than 150 injured when an Israeli warplane blew up the house of a leading Hamas militant in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.

The air strike came just as Palestinians and Israelis were trading ideas to relieve tensions in the West Bank, but the bloody results of the Israeli attack were likely to derail the efforts as Hamas threatened revenge.

The security officials said the house belonged to Sheik Salah Shehada, founder of the military wing of Hamas, known as Izzadine el-Qassam, in Gaza and the West Bank.

Shehadeh, his wife and three of their children were killed.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the strike: ‘‘This operation was in my view one of our biggest successes.’’

‘‘We hit perhaps the most senior Hamas figure on the operational side.’’

Shehadeh was jailed by Israel from 1988 to 1999.

Sharon said Israel had ‘‘no interest in harming civilians.’’

But by firing a powerful missile into a crowded neighbourhood in the middle of the night, civilian casualties were a certainty, Palestinians said.

‘‘This is a war crime that is aimed at destroying all efforts to return stability to the region,’’ Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

‘‘We warned the Israeli government against attacking civilians. The Israeli government is playing with fire.’’

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