Israeli troops martyrs Islamic Jihad commander, rockets rain from Gaza
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel martyred a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a rare targeted strike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, drawing retaliatory rocket salvoes that reached as far as Tel Aviv.
In the most serious escalation in months, an Israeli missile attack also hit the home of an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus, Syrian state media said. The strike killed two people including one of the official’s sons, the group and Syrian state media said. Israel refused to comment.
As the sound of Palestinian rockets and Israeli air strikes echoed throughout Gaza and Israeli border areas, Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh spoke at the midday Gaza funeral of his slain fellow militant, Baha Abu Al-Atta.
“Israel executed two coordinated attacks, in Syria and in Gaza, in a declaration of war,” he said. Mourners fired guns into the air, chanting “revenge!”
Both sides expected further escalation after the funeral, but the extent of it appeared to hinge on whether the much larger Islamist group Hamas would join Islamic Jihad in the exchange of fire that sent civilians on both sides huddling for shelter and forced businesses and schools to close.
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By early afternoon Gaza authorities reported four killed, including Al-Atta, 42 and his wife in the predawn Israeli strike that destroyed a floor in their home, scattering debris around their neighbourhood.
Another air strike in Gaza hit two men riding a motorcycle, killing one and wounding the other. The Israeli military described them as an Islamic Jihad rocket crew. A third Palestinian man died in another strike.
Gaza medical officials said 24 Palestinians had been wounded, as ambulances streaked through abandoned streets and Israeli missiles landed, many in open fields, apparently targeting hidden rocket silos.
Hamas joined Islamic Jihad in condemning Israel, though the two factions have not always been in agreement over strategy. Islamic Jihad, free of the burden of governing Gaza’s impoverished two million Palestinians, has at times chafed at Hamas’s ceasefire efforts.