Who was senior Hamas military leader Marwan Issa?

Group's deputy commander maintained a low profile and rarely appeared in public, but was one of Israel's most-wanted men

Armed fighters stand guard during an exhibition of military equipment, organised by Hamas's Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades. EPA
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Israel killed Hamas's deputy commander Marwan Issa last week, the White House said on Monday.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a press briefing described Mr Issa as “Hamas’s number three" official.

Hamas has not yet officially commented on reports of his death.

“The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network. And justice will come for them too, and we are helping to ensure that," Mr Sullivan said.

The statement was part of a readout of a call between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Issa was 58 at the time of his death.

Mr Issa, nicknamed the Shadow Man for his low public profile and ability to evade Israeli arrest and assassination attempts over the decades, was one of the longest-serving senior leaders in Hamas.

Despite his senior position in the militant group, not a lot was know about his appearance until he was caught on camera during a prisoner exchange in 2011 involving Israeli soldier Sgt Gilad Shalit. Mr Issa survived at least three Israeli attempts to kill him, in 2006, 2014 and 2021.

Israel’s military said on March 11 that he was the target of an air strike on an underground compound in central Gaza on March 9 to 10. It described him as one of the men behind Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel. He is the most senior Hamas figure to be killed in the war so far.

Israel said Ghazi Abu Tamaa, a former commander of the Hamas Central Camps Brigade, was also a target in the operation, which involved the Shin Bet security service.

Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at the time that it was unclear if Mr Issa was killed in the operation.

Issa's role in Hamas

As the deputy commander of Hamas' military wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, he was the right-hand man to Mohammed Deif, head of the brigades. Mr Issa assumed the role after the assassination of another senior commander, Ahmed Al Jabari.

Mr Issa served both on Hamas’s military council and in its Gaza political office, overseen by Yahya Sinwar, the group’s highest-ranking official in the enclave.

Mr Issa was listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” and subject to US sanctions in 2019 by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and later by the EU in 2023, when the bloc also imposed sanctions on Mr Deif, in response to the October 7 attack.

Mr Issa was jailed by Israel for five years during the First Palestinian Intifada in the late 1980s and detained by the Palestinian Authority in 1997 until the start of the Second Intifada in 2000.

He said in a 2021 interview that he was involved in indirect talks that resulted in Israel exchanging more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees for Sgt Shalit.

“Even if the resistance in Palestine is monitored by the enemy at all hours, it will surprise the enemy,” he told Al Jazeera at the time.

Mr Issa rarely appeared in public, but was third on Israeli's most-wanted list. Saleh Al Arouri, fourth on the list, was killed weeks ago in Israeli strikes in Lebanon.

Mr Issa was born in the Bureij area of central Gaza in 1965, but his family is from what is now the Ashkelon area in Israel. He attended schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and continued his education at the Islamic University in Gaza.

He played basketball for Al Bureij Services Club. His arrest in 1987 ended any sporting ambitions he may have had.

One of his four sons, Muhammad, was reportedly killed in an air strike in December. His other son, Baraa, nine, died in 2009 after he was denied permission to enter Egypt to receive medical treatment.

Updated: March 19, 2024, 9:25 AM