Israel targets Islamic Jihad leaders in Syria and Gaza

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Palestinian factions responded with a barrage of rocket fire on Israeli residential areas

Cairo – The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said Israel targeted the house of one of its officials in the Syrian capital on Tuesday, killing one of his sons.

Syrian state media earlier reported that at least two people were killed and six wounded in an attack in the early hours that targeted a building in Damascus, without saying who had been targeted or who had carried out the attack.

An Islamic Jihad official confirmed it was the same incident in which the home of political leader, Akram Al Ajouri, was struck.

In a statement, Islamic Jihad blamed the attack on “the Zionist criminal enemy”.

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

Syrian state media identified the building as a civilian home located near the Lebanese embassy in Mezzah, a western district of the capital that is home to Damascus University and many foreign embassies.

Earlier, state media had said the Syrian army opened fire on “a hostile target” over Daraya, a suburb southwest of Damascus.

Photos published by state news agency SANA showed damage to a two-storey building and debris strewn over cars.

In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against its regional arch foe Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.

Israeli airstrike kills Islamic Jihad commander

Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a rare targeted killing that threatened to unleash a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. 

The militant group said the commander’s wife was also killed in the airstrike and that their children were wounded.

Air raid sirens wailed throughout southern and central Israel as militants responded with heavy rocket fire.

The airstrike that killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta came days after the appointment of hard-line politician Naftali Bennett as Israel’s new defense minister. Bennett has long advocated tougher action against Palestinian militants.

But speaking to reporters, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the operation had been planned long ago.

Conricus called Abu Al Atta a “ticking time bomb,” saying he had been responsible for a number of recent rocket attacks on southern Israel and claimed that he was actively planning new attacks.

“We essentially over the last week have been waiting for the opportune moment to conduct this surgical strike,” the spokesman said.

The airstrike damaged the half of the second and most of the third floor of a house in the Shejaeya neighborhood, in the eastern part of Gaza City. The house was known to be Abu Al Atta’s home.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said a man and a woman were killed in an airstrike at a house and two other people were wounded. Relatives and the Islamic Jihad said the woman was Abu Al Atta’s wife and the wounded were their children.

The militant group said Abu Al Atta, 42, was undergoing “a heroic act” when he was assassinated. It did not elaborate, but vowed revenge.

Minutes after the Iran-backed group confirmed the death, barrages of rockets could be heard fired toward Israel. Air raid sirens continued to go off throughout the morning as far away as Holon and Rishon LeZion, two suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-backed group that often carries out attacks independent of Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza.

But Conricus described Abu Al Atta as a powerful figure in Gaza who often acts alone without instruction from Tehran or Hamas.

He said Israel had no further plans to resume its assassinations of militant leaders – a practice that in the past has triggered heavy fighting. “There was no other choice,” he said.

Bennett, Israel’s new defense minister, has long called for a tougher response to rocket fire from Gaza, including a resumption of targeted killings. The comments indicated that Bennett had not played a significant role.

Israel routinely says it holds hold Hamas responsible for any fire emanating from the enclave.

Since Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007 from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, Israel and Gaza militants fought three wars, with the third in 2014 lasting for 50 days and was the deadliest and most destructive.

Short-but-frequent spasms of violence have occurred, the latest earlier this month when about 10 projectiles were fired at Israel, which accused Abu el-Atta of being behind them.

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