Israeli aircraft killed six Palestinian militants in two separate strikes on Gaza on Saturday, in a clear signal Israel would not tolerate attacks against it following Hamas’ bloody takeover of the coastal strip.
Around the time of the second strike, militants fired two crude rockets that struck the southern Israeli town of Sderot, just over the border from Gaza, the Israeli military said. No injuries were reported. Earlier in the day, a rocket landed short of Israel, falling in Palestinian territory.
Three militants from the Islamic Jihad were killed in the first airstrike, on a car traveling in the southern town of Khan Younis. The army said the militants were planning a suicide bombing, and had been involved in previous suicide attacks against Israel. The army also linked them to a 2004 infiltration of a military post in Gaza in which one Israeli civilian was killed.
The second attack sent missiles hurtling into a weapons factory in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, killing three militants, including a father and son, from a violent offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
‘This will not affect Islamic Jihad’
Abu Thaer, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades offshoot, said the father, Salah Quffa, 50, was head of the group’s central Gaza operations.
The army confirmed an airstrike in central Gaza, but said it targeted Islamic Jihad militants involved in previous attacks on Israel.
Abu Ahmed, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, said one of the three militants killed in the first air attack, Ziad Ghanam, was the group’s top leader in southern Gaza. He vowed retaliation.
“This will not affect Islamic Jihad,” Abu Ahmed said. “We continue our path of resistance until martyrdom or victory.”
Israeli aircraft have struck Gaza on five separate occasions since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip from Fatah security forces two weeks ago. On Wednesday, Israeli troops killed at least 11 Palestinians, including at least eight gunmen and a 12-year-old boy, in ground incursions into Gaza.
Islamic Jihad has taken the lead on military activity against Israel as Hamas consolidates its hold on Gaza.
Rocket fire and attacks on Israel have diminished significantly since the Hamas takeover, but Israel has said it would continue to go after militants.
The moderate Abbas ejected Hamas from the government after it vanquished his Fatah security forces in Gaza, and set up an emergency Cabinet in the West Bank headed by independent Salam Fayyad.
On Saturday, a small militant group declared Fayyad to be “a target” after he said his government would have to work with Israel to bring armed factions in the West Bank under control.
“Whoever makes these statements is a collaborator,” said Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Hamas-allied Popular Resistance Committees.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Fayyad said “intensive and active cooperation and coordination with the Israelis” would be needed to establish law and order in the chaotic West Bank.