The Israeli Defense Forces on Tuesday killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported. Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Atta was killed in a rare missile strike, even as the Syrian government claimed that a separate missile attack had hit the home of an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus, killing two people, including one of his sons.
However, Israel did not respond to Syria’s allegations of a strike in Damascus.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to kill Al-Atta after a rocket attack allegedly orchestrated by the Islamic Jihad commander forced Netanyahu off stage during an election rally in September, The Times of Israel reported. Two rockets were fired at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon from Gaza on September 10, triggering sirens that forced the prime minister off stage, making him furious.
Netanyahu reportedly pressured senior officials in the country’s defence forces to approve al-Atta’s assassination. However, the Israeli Defense Forces and Shin Bet, the internal security service, believed that too many Palestinian civilians would be killed in a retaliatory attack and lead to an all-out war before the Israeli elections. The operation was thus postponed.
Meanwhile, Al-Atta’s killing led to retaliatory rocket fire throughout the night from Gaza, and Israeli responses. The rocket fire injured 25 Israelis, with some rockets reaching as far as Tel Aviv. Israeli missile strikes killed 10 people including Al-Atta and his wife, Gaza officials said.
“Israel is not interested in escalation, but we will do everything required to defend ourselves,” Netanyahu said following Atta’s killing. “This could take time.”
On the other hand, militants of the Islamic Jihad group vowed revenge. Senior Islamic Jihad officials said the “real response” to Abu al-Atta’s elimination is yet to come. “The coming hours will speak for themselves,” Islamic Jihad spokesperson Musab al-Breim told the Palestine Today news website, The Times of Israel reported.
Egyptian and United Nations officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that they were attempting to engineer a truce between Israel and Gaza militants, in order to prevent escalation.
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