JERUSALEM - An Israeli cabinet minister on Wednesday justified an air strike on Gaza that killed the wife and child of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, saying he was a legitimate target.
"Mohammed Deif deserves to die just like (the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden. He is an arch murderer and as long as we have an opportunity we will try to kill him," Interior Minister Gideon Saar told army radio.
It was not immediately clear whether Deif had been killed or injured in the strike, which levelled a six-storey house in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood late on Tuesday.
Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra initially said three people were killed in the strike, among them an unidentified man, but later revised the toll down to two. He did not explain why.
Among the dead were Deif's second wife, Widad, 27, and his seven-month-old son Ali. Rescue workers on Wednesday pulled the bodies of a 48-year-old woman and a 14-year-old boy from the rubble, Qudra said.
Witnesses said at least three rockets were fired at the building, home to the Dalu family, pulverising it into a pile of dust, debris and twisted metal and leaving a huge crater in the ground where the building once stood.
Appointed head of Hamas's armed wing in 2002 after his predecessor Salah Shehade was assassinated when Israel dropped a one-tonne bomb on his house, Deif has already escaped five previous assassination attempts by Israel.
The Israelis see him as "the brains" behind the campaign of suicide bombings that targeted buses and public places during the second intifada (2000-2005) and consider him personally responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians.