Israeli airstrike kills top militant commander in Gaza

 

An Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed the commander of the militant group behind the abduction of Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive for more than five years and freed in a prisoner swap for more than 1,000 Palestinians.

The midday attack marked the highest profile Israeli strike against the coastal strip in several months and immediately set off a violent escalation after a period of relative calm.

Various Palestinian militant groups fired dozens of rockets, some deep into Israeli territory, prompting Israel to issue warnings to its residents to stay indoors. The Israeli military pounded several rocket launching cells in Gaza. In all, 10 Palestinian militants were killed in Israeli airstrikes, and one Israeli citizen was seriously wounded by the Palestinian rocket fire.

The Israeli military said it initially targeted Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, a large militant group closely aligned with Gaza's Hamas rulers. The explosion tore apart al-Qaissi's blue sedan and killed his son-in-law, Mahmoud Hanini — himself a top PRC field commander. Another low ranking Gaza militant also died.

Hours later, Israeli military killed two more militants that it said were about to launch rockets. After midnight, Palestinian officials said another five were killed in and around Gaza City.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli drones were seen hovering above just moments before al-Qaissi's vehicle burst into flames. They said the blast was so fierce that al-Qaissi's head detached as a result.

The Israeli military said al-Qaissi was plotting an infiltration attack into Israel similar to the one he orchestrated in August from the Sinai peninsula that killed eight Israelis and injured 40 more.

The armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee is responsible for dozens of deadly attacks against Israelis in recent years and its members are among the most active rocket launchers from Gaza into Israel.

The Israeli military said al-Qaissi was also in charge of transferring funds from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to other militant groups in Gaza.

But the group is mostly known for carrying out the brazen 2006 abduction of Schalit and holding on to him for more than five years until he was freed in a massive prisoner swap last year.

Israel's agreement to release 1,027 Palestinians for Schalit was the most lopsided swap in the country's history. Hundreds of those released have vowed to resume violence against Israel.

Israel often targets Gaza militants it says are preparing attacks, but tensions have been relatively calm in recent months with Israel mostly targeting smuggling tunnels from Egypt and refraining from attacking individuals. Al-Qaissi, who is also known as Abu Ibrahim, is the highest profile casualty in Gaza since his predecessor, Kamal Nairab, was killed seven months ago in similar fashion.

The military said Palestinian militants had fired some 50 rockets and mortar shells at Israel over the past two months, causing no casualties and little damage.

In contrast, some three dozen were fired Friday alone — with Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting five, the military said.

Gaza militants promised many more would come.

"The coward Zionists have committed an ugly crime and they know the price that they are going to pay," said a PRC spokesman, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Mujahid.

"We call on our fighters to respond to the Zionist enemy with all our strength," he said. "We shall avenge our leader and the response, God willing, will be equal to the size of the heinous crime."

The Israeli military insisted it did not want an escalation but said it was "prepared to defend the residents of Israel."

But it appeared to be getting ready for the worst, issuing a warning to Israeli residents living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza to stay close to home Friday night and refrain from holding major outdoor events Saturday.

Israel said Hamas was using other groups to carry out attacks in its place and warned that Gaza's rulers "will bear the consequences of these actions" if an escalation took place.

Mere hours later, Israel struck two more Gaza militants preparing to fire rockets. Gaza Health Ministry official Adham Abu Salmiya confirmed two were killed east of Gaza City. The Islamic Jihad said the dead men were its members.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for sparking a new escalation.

"The blood of our martyrs will not go in vain," he said.

AP

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit