Image: Palestinians carry the body of militant Muaman Abu-Daf in Gaza City
Mohammed Salem  /  Reuters
Palestinians carry the body of militant Muaman Abu-Daf during his funeral in Gaza City on Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/30/2011 11:45:53 AM ET 2011-12-30T16:45:53

Israel killed the leader of an al-Qaida-inspired faction in the Gaza Strip on Friday, accusing him of involvement in firing rockets and a planned attack on the Jewish state from the neighboring Egyptian Sinai.

The deadly airstrike was Israel's second against a Salafi Islamist militant this week. Militants identified him as Muaman Abu-Daf, chief of the Army of Islam, among a loose network of Palestinian groups which profess allegiance to al-Qaida and have been reinforced by volunteers who slip in from the Sinai.

Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers, who have sometimes reined in more radical groups, are seeking an accommodation with secular Palestinian rivals and with an Egypt struggling for order after the fall of U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Abu-Daf died when a missile hit Gaza City's Zeitoun district, the Hamas administration's Health Ministry said. Five other Palestinians were wounded.

Abu-Daf's body was displayed at a Gaza City mosque for Friday prayers, wrapped in a yellow Fatah flag.

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The Israeli military said its aircraft "targeted a terrorist squad that was identified moments before firing rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip."

Abu-Daf, a military statement said, had "orchestrated and executed numerous and varied terror attacks" and "was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week."

High alert
That appeared to refer to Israel's killing on Tuesday of another Salafi fighter, Abdallah Telbani, who the military said had been plotting strikes in which gunmen would circumvent the fortified Gaza border by attacking south Israel from the Sinai.

Israel has been on high alert for such raids since losing eight of its citizens to armed infiltrators on Egypt's porous frontier in August. Israeli troops repelling those gunmen killed five Egyptian border guards, fraying strategic ties with Cairo.

Though Hamas echoes Salafi calls for Israel's ultimate destruction, its ambitions are framed within Palestinian nationalism, not al-Qaida-style global jihad, and include a possible cease-fire with the militarily superior Jewish state which, with Egyptian help, has tried to isolate Gaza.

Hamas took over the coastal strip in a 2007 civil war against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Abbas held rapprochement talks in Cairo last week against a backdrop of political upheaval across the Arab world, including Syria, where Meshaal retains a headquarters that diplomats say Hamas has scaled back.

One official said Meshaal told Abbas he was "in favor of peaceful resistance and a truce in Gaza and the West Bank at this stage," though Hamas would not meet Israel's core demand for recognition.

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This week, Hamas marked the anniversary of the Israeli military offensive in the seaside strip.

The offensive, launched in response to months of intense rocket barrages, killed some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and caused widespread damage. Thirteen Israelis also died in the fighting.

At memorial ceremonies, speakers voiced support for continued armed confrontation with Israel.

After suffering heavy losses in the fighting, Hamas has largely maintained a cease-fire with Israel. It is believed to have restocked its arsenal with more powerful weapons, smuggled in through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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