Israel kills powerful Islamic Jihad commander al-Ata in targeted strike

Israel kills powerful Islamic Jihad commander al-Ata in targeted strike

The Israel Defense Forces killed a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad terror group responsible for the firing dozens of rockets out of the Gaza Strip; authorities said early Tuesday, in an attack that could send the sides sliding back toward war.

The IDF said it carried out a strike against a building; where Baha Abu al-Ata was present in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City.

The Gazan health ministry said one person was killed in the blast; and Islamic Jihad’s military wing sent out a statement mourning the death of al-Ata.

Al-Ata was thought to be the powerful head of the northern branch of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, and was seen as responsible for a number of rocket attacks on the country.

In a statement, the IDF called al-Ata a “ticking time bomb,” and said he was gearing up for “imminent” attacks on Israel, including pushing forward plans to carry out sniper attacks and send cells of terrorists across the border. It also said he had plotted drone attacks and to launch of rockets with different ranges.

 

The assassination came as hard-liner Naftali Bennett was set to take over as defense minister later Tuesday. The army said the assassination was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been defense minister for nearly a year.

Shortly after the strike, the IDF said it was bolstering troops and was “ready for a wide range of scenarios,” as authorities girded for expected reprisal attacks.

Schools in Israeli cities and communities near the Gaza Strip were shuttered for Tuesday and the army said it was closing off access to roads that run near the Strip, as well as open areas exposed to attack from the enclave.

Pictures from Gaza shared in Palestinian media showed heavy damage to the top floors of a building following the strike.

 

 

Israeli military officials had hinted at having al-Ata on their kill list; previously leaking his name and picture to the media in what was widely seen as a warning.

The powerful commander was widely seen as a maverick who took orders directly from Iran, if at all. The army said he was responsible for a a wide range of rocket attacks on Israel; including a volley of rockets fired at the city of Sderot on November 1. And another attack on a Sderot festival in August that sent thousands of people rushing for shelter.

Islamic Jihad is closely allied with Iran. Shortly after the attack, Syria reported air strikes in the Mezzeh area of Damascus, in what could be a related attack.

There was no immediate word confirmation from Israel on military activity in Syria.

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