IDF strike on Gaza - Reuters - March 9, 2012
Palestinians look at the remains of a vehicle after it exploded in an IDF strike in Gaza City, March 9, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Leader of the Popular Resistance Committees Zuhir al-Qaisi.
Leader of the Popular Resistance Committees Zuhir al-Qaisi.

Israel Air Force launched a strike on Palestinian targets in Gaza on Friday, killing the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, the organization that captured former IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

The IDF Spokesman said in a statement that that the attack targeted Zuhir al-Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees, and his collaborator, Mahmoud Hanani.

Israeli and Palestinian officials reported that IDF forces fired two missiles at a vehicle in northern Gaza, immediately killing al-Qaisi and Hanani, who were inside.

Al-Qaisi, the IDF Spokesman said, was recently organizing a large, coordinated terror attack to be carried out on Israel's border with Gaza. Hanani was a resident of Nablus and one of the prisoners freed as part of the deal to release Gilad Shalit, and was expelled to the Gaza Strip.

Al-Qaisi was one of the masterminds of the deadly terror attack in August 2011, in which eight Israelis were killed on Highway 12, which runs along the Israel-Egypt border.

The Popular Resistance Committees responded Friday to the attack, and vowed to avenge al-Qaisi's death in a way that would "shake the Zionist enemy."

Hamas' spokesman in Gaza said in response to the attack that the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves.

Following the IDF strike, two mortar shells and eight rockets were fired into Israel, and cities near the Gaza border were put on high alert. The residents have been asked to stay close to bomb shelters.

After the rocket fire, IDF forces proceeded to strike targets in Gaza, killing two more Palestinian militants, who were trying to fire rockets into Israel. Highway 12 was also closed to traffic on Friday evening.

Earlier Friday, prior to the IDF attack, two mortar bombs were fired into Israeli territory.

IDF officials, speaking with Army Radio following the mortar attack launched by Gaza militates, called the volley "unprovoked" and indicated that it was not in response to any army operations in the costal enclave.

Late last month, Israeli aircraft bombed two targets in the southern Gaza Strip overnight, targeting a smuggling tunnel in the town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and a building where Israel says militants manufactured weapons.

The strikes came in response to rockets fired at southern Israel over the weekend, an army statement said. It said Palestinian militants fired more than 50 rockets and mortar shells at Israel over the past two months. No immediate injuries were reported.

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