Israeli forces kill top Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza air raid
An Israeli air strike killed a top commander of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad in the besieged Gaza Strip on Tuesday and fighters responded by firing a barrage of rockets towards Israel.
Islamic Jihad’s armed wing announced the killing of Bahaa Abu al-Ata in a statement after Israel confirmed it targeted the 42-year-old leader.
Separately, the Palestinian group said Israel also attacked the home of one of its political leaders in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Jihad said Abu al-Ata’s wife was also killed in the blast that ripped through their home in Gaza City’s Shejaiya district before dawn. At least two others were wounded, according to medics.
The group said Abu al-Ata was killed during “a heroic action”, without elaborating, and promised to take revenge.
“Our inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity,” it said, referring to Israel.
Hamas, the Palestinian organisation that administers the Gaza Strip, said Israel “bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation”, and promised Abu al-Ata’s death “will not go unpunished”.
The Israeli military said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Abu al-Ata, blaming him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.
“Abu al-Ata was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb,” it said, accusing al-Ata of planning “imminent terror attacks through various means”.
Gaza has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade for more than 10 years, and the freedom of movement for the population of two million has been severely curtailed.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the killing of Abu al-Ata marked “an extremely dangerous escalation”.
“Israel has not targeted leaders in this way for some time, so this strike is seen here as one which brings significant risks,” he said.
Shortly after the attack, dozens of rockets were launched towards Israel as air raid sirens sounded across southern and central parts of the country, including the commercial capital, Tel Aviv, the Israeli military said.
Rocket fire caused damage and injuries with at least one projectile hitting a house and another narrowly missing passing cars on a highway. A factory in the city of Sderot was also struck, sparking a fire.
Israeli medics said they treated 39 people for wounds.
Israeli police said they closed some roads on the edge of Gaza as a precaution, while crossing points between Israel and Gaza were also closed. Schools and some ministries in Gaza were also shuttered.
Fawcett reported rockets continued to be blasted into the country late Tuesday.
Netanyahu warned a protracted period of fighting could follow.
“Israel is not interested in escalation, but we will do everything required to protect ourselves,” he said. “This could take time. What is needed is stamina and cool-headedness.”