Israel killed a top commander for 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.
At least one other person, a woman, was also killed in the blast that ripped through the building in Gaza City’s Shejaia district before dawn, medics said. Two others were wounded.
Shortly after, Palestinian militants launched a salvo of rockets into Israel, witnesses said. There was no immediate word of casualties or damage on the other side. Israeli police said they closed some roads on the edge of Gaza 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.
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 have said Iran has been cultivating Islamic Jihad as a Gaza-based proxy as part of Tehran’s widening regional confrontation against Israel.