Mohammed Deif: the ‘cat with nine lives’ leading Hamas fighters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 9:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 9:57pm

The top military commander of Hamas, Mohammed Deif, who has survived assassination attempts and defied the Middle East's most powerful forces, is proving a redoubtable foe for Israel in its latest incursion in Gaza.

Born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza in 1965, Deif (pictured) has been involved in operations with Hamas for more than 20 years, plotting suicide bombings inside Israel, kidnapping soldiers, firing rockets and helping plan the tunnels used to launch attacks.

He was appointed head of the Hamas military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in 2002 after the death of his predecessor, Salah Shehade, in a raid.

But Deif had a long yet shadowy career as a militant before then. His involvement with the Islamist movement in Gaza began in the 1980s when, as a biology student close to the Muslim Brotherhood, he headed the Islamists' union at Gaza Islamic University.

With the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, he escaped, or was freed, from a prison run by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

His escape - or liberation, as it is unclear whether he was freed or not - angered the Israelis, who had had Deif in their sights for more than a decade by then.

Shortly after he was named military head of Hamas, Israel launched its fifth bid to assassinate him in Gaza.

That attack left him severely wounded, and some rumours suggested he had been left paraplegic, although these were never confirmed, largely due to the secrecy surrounding the details of his life.

He delegated the leadership of the brigades to his deputy, Ahmed Jaabari, thus earning the nickname the "cat with nine lives" among his enemies, and cementing his reputation.

Only a few, poor-quality photographs of Deif are known to exist, the most recent taken some 20 years ago.

His hiding place is unknown and he has a habit of constantly changing his location. He is reported to be a master of disguise.

The mysterious commander also uses no technology that might allow the Israelis to track him, a Hamas official said.

He may have learned caution from the death of his mentor, Yahya Ayash, who was killed in 1996 by a mobile telephone booby-trapped with explosives by Israeli secret services.