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Israeli assault kills Palestinian commander in Gaza Strip

Israeli raids kill 5, injure 30 in besieged enclave — health ministry

By AFP - Nov 12,2019 - Last updated at Nov 12,2019

Mourners chant slogans as they carry the body of Palestinian Islamic Jihad senior leader Baha Abu Al Ata during his funeral in Gaza City on Tuesday (AFP photo)

Gaza City — Israeli forces killed a commander of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad in a strike on his home in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, triggering fears of a severe escalation in violence.

The targeted strike led to barrages of retaliatory rocket fire into Israel followed by Israeli air raids, and Gaza's health ministry reported five people killed and 30 wounded in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel said it targeted Islamic Jihad sites as well as rocket-launching squads in the raids.

Reports that a separate strike targeted an Islamic Jihad member in Damascus added to the day's tensions.

Islamic Jihad confirmed one of its officials, Akram Ajouri, was targeted in Damascus, with Syrian state news agency SANA reporting an Israeli strike had hit Ajouri's home, "killing his son Muadh and another person".

Israel did not comment on that strike.

The initial Israeli raid in Gaza early on Tuesday, thought to have been carried out by a drone, killed Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al Ata, 42.

Islamic Jihad confirmed his death along with that of his wife.

Israel blamed Ata for recent rocket fire into its territory and said he was preparing further attacks.

Islamic Jihad, allied to Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, claimed responsibility for rocket fire from the strip.

Schools were closed in both the Gaza Strip and in parts of Israel, including in the commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged that Ata had over the past year “planned and executed many attacks” and “fired hundreds of rockets at communities adjoining Gaza”.

Damage from a blast could be seen at Ata’s home in the Shejayia district of eastern Gaza City. 

Mosque loudspeakers rang out with news of Ata’s death early Tuesday and crowds joined his funeral procession through the streets of the city, occasionally firing guns into the air.

A joint statement by Gaza’s groups said Israel had crossed “all red lines” and would face consequences.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said “today’s crime and the Israeli bombardment in Gaza are added to the Israeli criminal record that is intended to liquidate the Palestinian cause by attacking the Palestinian people, the resistance and high-ranking resistance officers”.

The strikes and rocket fire raised the possibility of a severe escalation between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad is the second most-powerful group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas.

The flare-up comes at a sensitive time politically for Israel.

A September 17 general election ended in a deadlock and a new government is yet to be formed. It was the second election since April, when polls also ended inconclusively.

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