Israel assassinated a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist commander inside the Gaza Strip early on Tuesday, prompting a barrage of retaliatory rockets from Palestinian militant groups and leaving both sides bracing for serious escalation.
Israeli warplanes killed Baha Abu al-Ata with an airstrike in Shejaiyah, near Gaza City. Al-Ata was responsible for several recent rocket strikes and was planning to commit immediate terror attacks.
Islamic Jihad acknowledged al-Ata’s death and said his wife had also been killed. The group said that one of its senior members had been also targeted in a suspected Israeli airstrike in Damascus, where the Palestinian group has its headquarters.
“We are going to war,” said Ziad al-Nakhala, the secretary general of Islamic Jihad. “Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in the assassination of al-Quds Brigades commander Baha Abu al-Ata. We we will respond forcefully.”
Within hours of the Israeli strike in Gaza, Palestinian militant groups began firing an intense barrage of rockets into southern Israel, sending families running to bomb shelters as warning sirens wailed.
There were no immediate reports of casualties but the Israeli military ordered the closure of all schools and non-essential businesses in southern and central Israel, including in Tel Aviv, the country’s financial capital. It was the first time schools and shops have been shut in Tel Aviv since the 2014 Gaza War.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, described al-Ata as “a ticking bomb” who needed to be killed before he could launch new attacks against Israel.
He warned that the fighting could continue for an extended period. “This can take time. We need patience, we need cool heads, we have to enable the IDF to do the job,” he said.
A spokesman for IDF said Israel was “prepared for several days of battle” and would use the Iron Dome missile defence system to intercept rockets and strike back in Gaza if the rocket fire continued.
At least 75 rockets have been fired, the IDF said, and 20 of them were intercepted by Iron Dome.
© Times of Ukraine