After Israel killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a rare targeted strike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the group's leader said that Israel has pushed the group "to go to war."
The slaying of Baha Abu Al-Atta in his Gaza home looked likely to pose a new challenge for Gaza's ruling Hamas faction, which has mostly tried to maintain a truce with Israel since a 2014 war.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a statement saying, “These terrorist crimes are aggression and a declaration of war on the Palestinian people, and the enemy bears for responsibility for them.”
The group added “The Al-Quds Brigades and the valiant resistance, which announced a mobilization and started to hit back against this aggression and terrorism, will continue to forcefully and courageously defend the dignity of the Palestinian people.”
Additionally, Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhala of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad told the Dar al-Hayat Arabic-language news site, “We are going to war. Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in assassinating Al-Quds Brigades Commander Baha Abu al-Ata. We will respond forcefully.”
Despite a spate of rockets fired toward Israel since Tuesday morning, the Gaza factions said Tuesday afternoon that the retaliation "has yet to begin."
Israel also launched a missile attack targeting the home of an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus, killing one of his sons, Syrian state media said. Islamic Jihad said the target was the home of political leader Akram Al-Ajouri.
Israel casts rising Gaza tensions as part of a wider regional struggle with arch-foe Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cited such scenarios in trying to form a broad coalition government after two inconclusive elections this year.
Al-Atta's wife was also killed in the blast that ripped through the building in Gaza City's Shejaia district before dawn, Islamic Jihad said. Two people were wounded.
Shortly after, Palestinian militants launched a salvo of rockets into Israel, setting off sirens as far as its port city of Ashdod, about 20 km (12.5 miles) away, witnesses said.
Video circulated on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed mid-air rocket interceptions by Israel's Iron Dome air defence system. There was no word of casualties or damage. Police closed roads on the Gaza outskirts as a precaution.
In a statement, the Israeli military said Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Al-Atta, blaming him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.
"Abu Al-Atta was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb," the statement said, accusing Al-Atta of planning "imminent terror attacks through various means".
Separately, Hamas said Israel "bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation" and pledged that Al-Atta's death "will not go unpunished".
Syrian state media said the Israeli attack in Damascus had been carried out using several missiles, one of which was shot down over the nearby suburb of Daraya.
It said at least two people were killed and six wounded in the attack, describing the target as a civilian home in Mezzah, a western district of the capital where several foreign embassies are located.
Photos published by state news agency SANA showed damage to a two-storey building and debris strewn over cars.
In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against its regional arch foe Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
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