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Gaza Retaliates After Israeli Strike Kills Islamic Jihad Leader

The attacks are a significant escalation, increasing tensions even as Israel's political turmoil simmers

Mourners chant slogans as they carry the body of Palestinian Islamic Jihad senior leader Baha Abu Al-Ata during his funeral in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto)

Over a hundred rockets launched from Gaza have reached as far inland as Israel’s capital city of Tel Aviv, after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that an Israeli air strike killed a senior leader of militant group Islamic Jihad, Baha Abu al-Ata. Islamic Jihad is the second largest militant group in Gaza.

Two people were injured when a rocket narrowly missed their car as they were driving in the eastern outskirts of Ashdod, reported Israeli emergency service United Hatzalah. Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted dozens of rockets, the IDF confirmed.

The attacks are a significant escalation. Schools in Israel were closed Tuesday, and people in communities from the Gaza border all the way to the capital 55 miles away have been warned to stay home. Shelters are open and restrictions have been placed on large gatherings.

The leader killed overnight, Abu al-Ata, masterminded recent attacks against Israel, according to Israel’s military, and he was Islamic Jihad’s top commander in Gaza.

“Abu al-Ata was promoting preparations to commit immediate terror attacks in various ways towards Israeli civilian and IDF troops during the recent few days,” an IDF statement said. “Al-Ata trained terror squads for infiltration and sniper attacks, drone launching and rocket fire to different distances.”

The Israeli strike killed Baha Abu el-Atta and his wife in Gaza City. Three other militants were killed in additional Israeli strikes.

In a statement, Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge Al-Ata’s death: “The response to this crime will have no limits … the occupation will be the one responsible for this aggression.”

Independent of Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza and receives funding from Iran, Islamic Jihad often acts alone, and Al-Ata was known to act without instruction even from Iran, reports AP.

At a press conference Tuesday, Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled al-Batsh, said Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu “will pay a high price” for the attacks.

Another overnight Israeli air strike killed the son of Islamic Jihad leader, Akram al-Ajouri, in Damascus, Syria, reports Syria’s state-run news agency SANA. Israel’s military has not confirmed that attack.

Israel frequently carries out airstrikes inside Syria, usually against Iranian-backed militants. This strike against a Palestinian in Syria represents a departure from the norm.

The last war between Israel and Gaza ended in 2014 and lasted for 50 days. Since 2007 when Hamas gained control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Gaza militants have fought three times.

about the author

Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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