Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander, rockets fired from Gaza

Near East

12 November 2019, 09:40

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Israel killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a rare targeted strike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, accusing him of carrying out a series of cross-border attacks and planning more.

The slaying of Baha Abu Al-Atta in his home looked likely to pose a new challenge for Gaza’s ruling Hamas faction, which has mostly tried to maintain a truce with Israel since a 2014 war.

Israel casts rising Gaza tensions as part of wider regional struggle with arch-foe Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cited such scenarios in trying to form a broad coalition government after two inconclusive elections this year.

Al-Atta’s wife was also killed in the blast that ripped through the building in Gaza City’s Shejaia district before dawn, Islamic Jihad said. Two other people were wounded.

Shortly after, Palestinian militants launched a salvo of rockets into Israel, setting off sirens as far as its port city of Ashdod, some 20 km (12.5 miles) away, witnesses said.

Video circulated on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed mid-air rocket interceptions by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system. There was no word of casualties or damage. Police closed roads on the Gaza outskirts as a precaution.

In a statement, the Israeli military said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Al-Atta, blaming him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.

“Abu Al-Atta was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb,” the statement said, accusing Al-Atta of planning “imminent terror attacks through various means”.

An Islamic Jihad statement confirmed the death of Al-Atta, who it said had been in the midst of “heroic jihadist action”.

“Our inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity,” the statement said, referring to Israel.

Separately, Hamas said Israel “bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation” and pledged that Al-Atta’s death “will not go unpunished”.

Islamic Jihad shares Hamas’s ideological commitment to Israel’s destruction. But unlike Hamas, it is has often chafed at Egyptian-led efforts to forge ceasefires with the Israelis.

Israeli analysts say that Iran, whose nuclear programme and regional activities are the focus of a U.S. sanctions campaign, has cultivated Islamic Jihad in Gaza as part of a network of proxy forces on Israel’s borders.

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