GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar (search), who narrowly survived an Israeli airstrike Wednesday, is known for his fiery speeches, but he is also a doctor and an occasional author with a romance novel to his credit.
Israel's military says Zahar is a key Hamas (search) decision-maker who is involved in plotting suicide bombings against Israelis.
Zahar, 58, was standing in the door of his Gaza City (search) home when a bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 flattened the two-story house, killing his eldest son and a bodyguard in apparent retaliation for twin suicide bombings that killed 15 Israelis a day earlier.
Zahar escaped with minor injuries to his head and leg and was spirited away to safety after being treated at nearby Shifa Hospital, Hamas officials said. His wife and a daughter also were wounded.
Hamas has stopped short of claiming responsibility for Tuesday's bombings but has vowed to avenge Israeli airstrikes that have targeted the group's leadership.
The gray-bearded Zahar, a Gaza native, heads the medical department at Gaza's Islamic University and in 1987 helped found Hamas. He serves as the personal physician to the militant group's spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
He long has been one of the group's most prominent spokesmen, displaying his mastery of English in frequent interviews with international television networks.
He is never without a book or magazine and spends his spare time translating English works into Arabic and writing his own books on Islam and public relations. In 1980, he even wrote a romance novel titled "Jamila" ("Beautiful").
But he is best known for whipping up crowds with fiery rhetoric. Zahar is famous for telling thousands who attend Hamas rallies that "resistance will continue no matter the sacrifice" and the group will take an "eye for an eye and a nose for a nose."
His hard-line stance has made him immensely popular in Gaza. After the bombing reduced his home in the Rimal neighborhood to a rubble-filled crater, hundreds of people rushed to the scene.
The airstrike came as members of Zahar's family, including some of his seven children, were gathered to plan the wedding of Khaled, the son killed in the attack, at the end of the month.
Israel has killed 13 Hamas members and six bystanders in nine airstrikes since an Aug. 19 Hamas suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus killed 22 people. On Saturday, Israeli warplanes targeted Yassin and several other group leaders meeting in the Gaza Strip.
Zahar has been arrested several times by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
After a wave of Hamas bombings in 1996, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and badly beaten in prison, where his beard and hair were forcibly shaved — a grave insult for a devout Muslim.
In 1992, Zahar was one of more than 400 Palestinians deported to south Lebanon by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.