Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Atta in Gaza airstrikes

12 November 2019, 09:47 | Updated: 12 November 2019, 11:39

Israel has killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

The attack was carried out in targeted airstrikes in eastern Gaza on Tuesday.

Militants responded to the killing of Baha Abu Al-Atta by firing rockets at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, in what is the most serious escalation of tensions in months.

An Israeli missile attack also targeted the home of an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus, killing two people including one of his sons, Syrian state media said.

Islamic Jihad said the target was the home of political leader Akram Al-Ajouri, who was not harmed.

Israel has closed schools across southern and central Israel, and civilians have been told to stay at home and not go to work.

There were no immediate reports of casualties as Israeli media reported that some of the rockets had been intercepted.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said fighting with Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants could prove protracted.

He said: "Israel is not interested in escalation, but we will do everything required to protect ourselves.

"This could take time. What is needed is stamina and cool-headedness."

The killing of the Islamic Jihad commander in his Gaza home looked likely to pose a new challenge for Gaza's ruling Hamas faction, which has mostly tried to maintain a truce with Israel since the 2014 conflict.

Mr Netanyahu said Al-Atta was an "arch terrorist and was the generator of terrorism from the Gaza Strip".

He added: "He was in the midst of plotting additional attacks these very days. He was a ticking bomb."

Rising Gaza tensions are regarded by Israel as part of a wider regional struggle with arch-enemy Iran.

Al-Atta's wife was also killed in the blast that ripped through the building in Gaza City's Shejaia district before dawn, Islamic Jihad said.

In response, Palestinian militants launched a salvo of rockets into Israel, setting off sirens as far as its port city of Ashdod.

In a statement, the Israeli military said Mr Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Al-Atta.

It said that "Abu Al-Atta, 42, was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb" and that he was planning "imminent terror attacks through various means".

The statement also blamed him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.

An Islamic Jihad statement confirmed the death of Al-Atta, who it said had been in the midst of "heroic jihadist action".

"Our inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity," the statement said, referring to Israel.

Hamas said Israel "bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation" and pledged that Al-Atta's death "will not go unpunished".