GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel confirmed Friday that the top Hamas bombmaker survived an Israeli airstrike aimed at killing him, an operation that wounded 35 bystanders, including 15 children, and drew international criticism.
Mohammed Deif was wounded in Thursday's strike but was whisked to a hiding place after treatment at a Gaza City hospital, Palestinian medical sources said. The strike obliterated Deif's green Mercedes and killed his two bodyguards.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group responsible for scores of suicide attacks in Israel, said it would avenge the airstrike. Thousands of mourners clamored for revenge during Friday's funeral for the bodyguards. "Qassam, hit deep inside Haifa and Tel Aviv," the crowd chanted, referring to Hamas' military wing.
Israeli Science Minister Matan Vilnai, a former deputy military chief of staff, confirmed Friday that Deif was alive. "The reports that I'm getting from our people are that he was indeed wounded, not an injury that he won't recover from," Vilnai told Israel Army Radio.
Israeli officials initially were quoted as saying Deif was killed.
Hamas leaders insisted from the outset that Deif was alive. Palestinian security officials later said Deif was moderately wounded. Two witnesses, Hani Sultan, 19, and Ramez Baroud, 29, said they helped evacuate three wounded men from two cars that were hit by missiles. They said they did not know if one of them was Deif.
The attack was the latest example of what the Israeli military calls "targeted killings," a practice it says deters attacks on Israelis.
Seventy-eight wanted Palestinians and 52 bystanders have been killed in dozens of such attacks in the past two years of fighting.
The U.S. government has condemned the attacks. Some critics say they lead to yet more terror attacks.
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