JERUSALEM – Israel knew that the wife of a senior Hamas (search) militant was with him when it decide to kill him, but went ahead with the airstrike anyway, the air force commander said Tuesday.
In July, an air force F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on the house of Salah Shehadeh (search), leader of the Hamas military wing, in Gaza City (search). Shehadeh and a Hamas activist were killed, along with Shehadeh's wife and 16 other bystanders, among them nine children.
Hamas has carried out scores of attacks on Israeli civilians, including homicide bombings.
The attack on Shehadeh was the only time pilots were told to go ahead with a strike even though innocents were likely to be killed, said the air force commander, Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz. "Even though his (Shehadeh's) wife was in the area, we carried out the attack," he said.
Israel has carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings, usually firing rockets from helicopters at wanted Palestinian militants. The airstrikes have also killed dozens of innocent bystanders.
In an interview last year with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Halutz defended the use of such a powerful bomb to kill Shehadeh as "militarily and morally" correct, despite the civilian casualties.
Halutz said Tuesday that civilians -- whom he called "uninvolved subjects" -- are sometimes killed because of the crowded environment of Gaza, and "occasionally as a result of inaccuracy despite the accurate systems."
Addressing recent reports that some pilots were unhappy with having to carry out the targeted killings, Halutz said that "there is no question and no doubts about the importance of our mission."
"We do not do it with an easy heart and we do not just carry on in situations were we make mistakes. But there are no doubts about the need to target what they call ticking bombs," said Halutz.