Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a rare targeted killing that threatened to unleash a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. The militant group said the commander's wife was also killed in the airstrike and that their children were wounded. Air raid sirens wailed throughout southern and central Israel as militants responded with heavy rocket fire. The airstrike that killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta came days after the appointment of hard-line politician Naftali Bennett as Israel's new defense minister, the AP reports. Bennett has long advocated tougher action against Palestinian militants. But 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. 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 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 toward Israel. Air raid sirens continued to go off throughout the morning as far away as Holon and Rishon LeZion, two suburbs of Tel Aviv.
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