GAZA CITY: Israel’s military killed a commander of Palestinian armed group in a strike on his home in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, prompting retaliatory rocket fire and fears of a severe escalation in violence.
Separately in Damascus, Syrian state media reported that an Israeli strike hit the home of another leading Palestinian figure, killing his son and another person.
Later on Tuesday, Israel said it targeted two militants from the group’s rocket-launching unit who were posing an immediate threat.
Gaza’s health ministry reported one Palestinian killed in that strike in the northern Gaza Strip.
Palestinian group announced the death of the commander in Gaza City after Israel confirmed it had targeted Baha Abu al Ata, 42. The group said Ata’s wife was also killed.
The strike led to barrages of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel and air raid sirens rang out in various parts of the country while residents ran to bomb shelters.
Israel’s military said around 50 rockets had been fired at its territory and air defences had intercepted around 20 of them.
A house in Netivot, an Israeli town near the Gaza Strip, was hit and another rocket hit a junction at Gan Yavne near the coastal city of Ashdod, police said.
Video spread online showing the rocket that hit the road narrowly missing cars. Israeli medics said they had treated 29 people.
Schools were closed in both the Gaza Strip and in parts of Israel, including in commercial capital Tel Aviv.
The Israeli army ordered “non-essential” workers in Tel Aviv and central Israel to stay at home like those in the Gaza border region and banned public gatherings.
“A building in the Gaza Strip, in which the Palestinian senior leader Baha Abu al Ata stayed in, was attacked,” Israel’s military said in a statement, calling it a joint operation between the army and Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service.
Damage from a blast could be seen at Ata’s home in the Shejayia district in the east of Gaza City.
A total of 18 people were wounded and three killed in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry.
The strikes and rocket fire raised the possibility of a severe escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Three wars have been fought between them since 2008, and Gaza has been under a strict Israeli blockade for more than a decade.
The flare-up comes at a sensitive time politically for Israel.
A September 17 general election ended in a deadlock and a new government is yet to be formed. It was the second election since April, when polls also ended inconclusively. — AFP