An Israeli aircraft attacked a motorcyclist in Gaza on Tuesday, killing the rider and wounding two other people in the first deadly airstrike in the Palestinian territory since a truce was reached with Palestinian militants last November.
The Israeli military said the airstrike killed Haitham Mishal, whom it identified as a jihadi militant involved in the April 17 rocket attack on the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat.
But Ashraf al-Kidra, Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesman, said Mishal was a Palestinian police officer.
In a statement, the Israeli military said Mishal “has been a key terror figure, specializing in weapons and working with all of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.” It said he manufactured weapons and specialized in rockets and explosive devices that he sold to militant groups.
Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers engaged in eight days of heavy fighting last November before reaching an Egyptian-brokered truce. Under the deal, Gaza militants pledged to halt rocket attacks on Israel, while Israel said it would halt a policy of assassinating wanted militants.
But after several months of calm, the truce has begun to unravel in recent weeks. Palestinian militants have sporadically fired rockets into open areas of southern Israel, while the Israeli air force has responded with airstrikes on training sites and open areas in Gaza.
Hamas is not believed to have been involved in the rocket fire, and small al-Qaida-influenced militant groups have claimed responsibility. But Israel has said it holds Hamas, as the ruling power in Gaza, to be responsible for all attacks out of the crowded seaside strip.
Israel said Mishal was involved in the jihadi group that claimed responsibility for the Eilat attack.
Israel viewed the rocket attack on Eilat, a normally tranquil oasis that borders the Red Sea and Egypt’s Sinai desert, as an escalation. It accused Gaza militants of staging the attack, which caused no injuries, out of Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert and threatened heavier retaliation.
© The Canadian Press, 2013