IMAGE: Palestinians pray beside the bodies of Palestinians.
Mohammed Salem  /  Reuters
Palestinians pray beside the bodies of Islamic Jihad militants after they were killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza on Tuesday.
updated 12/18/2007 7:33:03 AM ET 2007-12-18T12:33:03

Israeli aircraft launched an assault on the radical Islamic Jihad organization from the skies over Gaza, killing the group’s overall commander and nine other militants in three fiery strikes ending early Tuesday.

A fourth attack on a security post in southern Gaza killed two Hamas militants, that group said.

In an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

Thousands of Gazans took to the streets in funeral processions for the dead militants, whose bodies and coffins were draped with black Islamic Jihad flags. In northern Gaza, bullets from the rifles of mourners severed an electric wire, which fell, injuring five people, medics said.

Four of the Islamic Jihad militants were targeted as they emerged from morning prayers Tuesday at a northern Gaza mosque. Six others died when Israeli aircraft blasted two cars in Gaza City after nightfall Monday.

“There is no doubt that this is a big loss,” Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, told The Associated Press.

Stepped-up offensive
The deadly strikes against Islamic Jihad are part of a stepped-up Israeli offensive against Gaza militants who fire near-daily rocket barrages at southern Israeli border communities. Islamic Jihad, a small radical group with ties to Iran, has taken responsibility for most of the barrages.

Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers aren’t heavily involved in the cross-border attacks, but allow other radical factions, including its Islamic Jihad allies, to operate with impunity.

The airstrikes in Gaza came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gained strong support for his moderate government at an international donors conference in Paris. Donors pledged $7.4 billion over the next three years, far more than he expected.

Abbas is locked in a deadly power struggle with Hamas, which overran Gaza in June after routing his fighters.

The fundraising followed the relaunch of formal peace talks with Israel. Negotiations got off to a rocky start over Israel’s refusal to halt construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — areas captured in the 1967 Mideast war that the Palestinians want as part of a future state.

On Tuesday, a top ally of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed swapping Israeli territory for disputed land where Jewish communities have been built.

“What I propose is that we reach an agreement with the Palestinians today over the principle of settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty and in return an exchange of territory,” Vice Premier Haim Ramon said, becoming the first Israeli official to openly endorse the idea.

Abbas already has expressed support for a land swap.

The Israeli military said the three air attacks targeted militants involved in rocket fire at Israel.

“I’m very pleased with our achievements last night,” Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defense minister, told Army Radio on Tuesday morning.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that in addition to targeting Israeli civilians those behind the rocket attacks also were seeking to sabotage the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“Obviously we have to act to protect our people,” he said. “These extremists don’t want to just kill innocent civilians they want to kill the peace process, they’re the enemies of everyone who wants to see this peace process move forward.”

Rockets, mortar shells fired at Israel
Palestinian militants fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel on Tuesday morning. Two shells hit an Israeli community, but did not result in casualties, the military said.

The target of the first Israeli airstrike in Gaza City late Monday was Majed Harazin, a senior Islamic Jihad militant in charge of rocket squads that have been firing at Israel, the military said.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Khaled el-Batch confirmed that Harazin was killed. The group said he was its top commander for the West Bank and Gaza, and he rarely traveled in vehicles for fear of an Israeli airstrike.

Another militant was killed and a third critically wounded in the airstrike, hospital officials said.

Islamic Jihad supporters gathered around the morgue and pledged revenge.

“The blood of our comrades will be the fuel for the rockets that will bring death and destruction to the Zionists,” another Islamic Jihad spokesman, Abu Hamza, told The Associated Press.

In the second airstrike, shortly before midnight, the military said four militants were killed. The third strike, early Tuesday, killed four more of the group’s men. Four civilians were wounded, medical officials said.

The attack on a Hamas security post in the southern town of Rafah killed two members of Hamas’ security force, Hamas said. The military confirmed that it had carried out the strike.

Separately, Islamic Jihad retracted its announcement that its commander in the northern West Bank was killed by an undercover Israeli unit in Qabatiyeh village. The Israeli military had denied any knowledge of an assassination attempt there.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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