Israel kills Baha Abu Al-Ata, top Palestinian militant in Gaza

Israel kills Baha Abu Al-Ata, top Palestinian militant in Gaza

Israel kills Baha Abu Al-Ata, top Palestinian militant in Gaza

Israel assassinated a senior Islamic Jihad 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.

The slaying of Baha Abu Al-Atta in his 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 a 2014 war. Syrian state media earlier reported that at least two people were killed and six wounded in an attack in the early hours that targeted a building in Damascus, without saying who had been targeted or who had carried out the attack.

Damage from a blast could be seen at Ata's home in the Shejayia district in the east of Gaza City.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Mr. Abu Al-Ata was a "ticking bomb", who was planning an attack that included sniper fire, IEDs and ground units against Israeli soldiers and possibly civilians.

Alerts went off as far north as Tel Aviv as terrorists expressed their rage at the the loss of the terror chief.

Around the same time as Al-Ata was killed, another senior figure from PIJ was killed in an Israeli rocket strike on his home in the Syrian capital, Damascus, Syria's state news agency Sana said.

Conricus added that the airstrike had been carried out with a warplane that destroyed only the floor of the building where Abu el-Atta was hiding in order to minimize "collateral damage".

The army said it was restricting access to farm lands near the border with Gaza and that schools and some roads in the area would be closed Tuesday in anticipation of reprisal attacks.

Islamic Jihad is the second most-powerful militant group in the Gaza Strip behind Hamas, to which it is allied.

Israel had no further plans to resume its assassinations of militant leaders _ a practice that in the past has triggered heavy fighting.

Bennett, Israel's new defense minister, has long called for a tougher response to rocket fire from Gaza, including a resumption of targeted killings. "There was no other choice, " Conricus said.

Since Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007 from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, Israel and Gaza militants have fought three wars, with the third in 2014 lasting for 50 days. In a statement, Islamic Jihad blamed the attack on "the Zionist criminal enemy".

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