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Israel will “pay a heavy price” if it launches a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas's top military commander warned in a rare audio message broadcast on Tuesday.
“The enemy will pay a heavy price if it thinks of entering Gaza,” Mohammed Deif said in the audio message carried by Hamas television station Al-Aqsa.
“A ground war is the best hope of freeing the prisoners,” Deif said, implying that militants would seek to capture Israeli soldiers in order to bring about a prisoner swap deal as they did last year with Israel's Gilad Shalit.
Deif is the head of Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a position he assumed in 2002, after the previous commander Saleh Shehadeh was killed in a massive Israeli air strike.
In 2006, Deif was badly wounded in another Israeli air strike.
He subsequently went underground, leaving most field duties to Ahmed Jaabari, his second-in-command, who was killed in an Israeli targeted killing on November 14 which sparked the current cycle of violence. - AFP