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Hamas claims capture of commander's killer and blames Israel

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's leader, says killer of Mazen Fuqaha has been arrested, and claims assassination was carried out on Israel's orders
Ismail Haniyeh (R), Yehya al-Sinwar (L) and wife of Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City on 11 May (Reuters)

Hamas said on Thursday it has apprehended the killer of one of its senior commanders in the Gaza Strip and that he carried out the assassination on Israel's orders.

Mazen Fuqaha, 38, was shot in the head and the chest in his car on March 24 near his Gaza home.

"We announce to the Palestinian people that the one who carried out this crime upon orders of Israeli security officers is now in the hands of (Palestinian) security services," said Ismail Haniyeh, the newly elected supreme leader of the Islamist group which governs Gaza.

"The killer who executed the crime was arrested," Haniyeh added, without identifying him, but saying that he had confessed to the shooting.

Haniyeh's announcement was made outside Fuqaha's house in Gaza City, and was attended by his widow and Yehya al-Sinwar, Hamas's Gaza chief.

Israel's defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had claimed Faqha's death was the result of an internal power dispute in Hamas.

Israel's Shin Bet security service, which carries out covert operations against Palestinian militants, did not respond immediately to a request for a comment on Haniyeh's allegations.

Hamas last month hanged three "collaborators" in Fuqaha's murder - a day after offering "clemency" to anyone who admitted their role.

Israel jailed Fuqaha in 2003 for planning attacks against Israelis and sentenced him to nine life terms. He was released in 2011, as part of a group of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners whom Israel freed in exchange for a captive soldier.

Israeli media said that after Fuqaha's release and exile to Gaza he continued to plan attacks by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank.

"The occupier bears responsibility for (Fuqaha's death) because the confession (of the killer) is clear; the master who gave the orders was the occupier, the Zionist enemy," said Haniyeh, but he stopped short of threatening retaliation.

In March, Hamas, which has largely observed an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel since a seven-week war in 2014, vowed Israel would pay the price for Fuqaha's killing.

Cross-border violence between Gaza militants and Israel has largely died down since that conflict.