Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in an airstrike in Gaza early Tuesday just hours before another attack in Damascus targeted the home of another leading Palestinian militant, killing his son and at least one more person. Syrian state media said Israel was responsible for the Damascus attack.
Two rockets targeted the home of a senior figure of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, Akram Ajouri, "killing his son Muadh and another person", Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
The attack came hours after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta, a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza.
The targeted killing of the top Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza sparked Palestinian retaliatory fire, according to the Israeli army, with rockets striking the south of Israel. Air raid sirens wailed throughout southern and central Israel as militants responded with heavy rocket fire.
The airstrike that killed Islamic Jihad leader Atta came days after the appointment of hard-line politician Naftali Bennett as Israel's new defence minister. Bennett has long advocated tougher action against Palestinian militants.
But speaking to reporters, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the operation had been planned long ago.
Conricus called Abu el-Atta a "ticking time bomb", saying he had been responsible for a number of recent rocket attacks on southern Israel and claimed that he was actively planning new attacks.
"We essentially over the last week have been waiting for the opportune moment to conduct this surgical strike," the spokesman 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".
Family wounded in Gaza attack
The airstrike damaged the half of the second and most of the third floor of a house in the Shejaeya neighbourhood, in the eastern part of Gaza City. The house was known to be Abu el-Atta's home.
Gaza's Health Ministry said a man and a woman were killed in an airstrike at a house and two other people were wounded. Relatives and the Islamic Jihad said the woman was Abu el-Atta's wife and the wounded were their children.
The militant group said Abu el-Atta, 42, was undergoing "a heroic act" when he was assassinated. It did not elaborate, but vowed revenge.
Minutes after the Iran-backed group confirmed the death, barrages of rockets could be heard fired towards Israel. Air raid sirens continued to go off throughout the morning as far away as Holon and Rishon LeZion, two suburbs of Tel Aviv.
Israel on Tuesday also shut down crossing points into Gaza and reduced the permissible fishing area off the territory's coast to six nautical miles in anticipation of a looming confrontation.
In Israel, schools were canceled in communities and towns along the Gaza Strip's boundary and all the way to Tel Aviv, about 90 kilometres north of Gaza.
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