Hamas is blaming Israel for the assassination of an aviation engineer responsible for its drone program.
An aviation engineer working for the Hamas terror organization for the past decade was shot dead on Thursday in the Tunisian city of Sfax.
Assassins shot Mohammed Al-Zawari, 49, multiple times at point-blank when he was sitting in his car near his home.
An Al-Jezeera journalist in Tunisia reported that a truck parked near the home blocked the way to his car. Two assailants using weapons equipped with silencers rushed forward and shot him at close range, riddling him with some 20 bullets.
Hamas later confirmed that Zawari was a member of their military wing and a pioneer in their drone program.
The Tunisian interior ministry stated it has arrested eight nationals on allegations of involvement in the shooting. Four rental cars were used in the killing and two handguns and suppressors were seized, it added.
One of the suspects is a Tunisian journalist based in Hungary, arrested along with a cameraman, Al-Jezeera reported. Two other suspects, one of them a Belgian of Moroccan origin, are still at large.
Israel’s Mossad espionage agency has unofficially been implicated in the hit, while Hamas has directly blamed Israel and has threatened to retaliate.
A statement by Hamas said Zawari’s work “contributed to the victories” by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
“The assassination of the commander Mohammed al-Zawari in Tunisia is a reminder to all Arab and Muslim nations that the Zionist enemy and its agents are roaming free in the region, playing their dirty roles, and it is time for this cowardly treacherous hand to be cut,” Hamas’ Ez-Addin al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement. His “blood will not be spilled in vain,” Hamas threatened.
There was no official Israeli response.
Israel’s Channel 10 quoted a Tunisian journalist who claimed that the Mossad had been tracking Zawari for quite some time and was responsible for his assassination.
The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Al-Zawari has also worked for the Hezbollah terror in the past and developed unmanned aircraft for them. In recent years, he moved between Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon.
Hamas has been working for over a decade to develop aircraft that can be used for surveillance or attack missions. Its drone program is considered to be in primitive stages and does not pose a real threat to Israel’s security at this time.
An Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16 fighter plane shot down a Hamas-flown Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over the Gaza Strip in September.
In June 2015, a Hamas drone crashed inside Israel. In July 2014, a UAV flying from Gaza was shot down over Ashdod by a Patriot missile battery during Operation Protective Edge.
Israeli analysts were conflicted as to whether the Mossad was in fact behind the hit. Speaking on IDF Radio on Sunday, some analysts said that Zawari, his actions and knowledge could pose a threat at some point, while others noted that Hamas’ drone program was of no real threat and that Israel would not risk assets in a foreign country to thwart a currently minor, albeit potentially growing threat.