(AFP) – Dec 18, 2007
GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israel killed the head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing in Gaza and 12 other gunmen in a wave of raids on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the group behind much of the rocket fire aimed at the Jewish state.
Majed al-Harazin, the 38-year-old chief of the Al-Quds Brigades, was driving in a car in northern Gaza City when a missile fired by an Israeli warplane hit the vehicle, killing him and one of his aides, medics and the group said.
He became the most senior Palestinian militant leader that Israel had killed in months.
The operation was hailed inside Israel as an effective response to near daily rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, while Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge it with scores of suicide attacks.
The raid targeting Harazin was the first of four Israel has carried out in Gaza in less than 24 hours, killing 12 militants, all but one of them from Islamic Jihad.
A commando operation in the occupied West Bank also left an Islamic Jihad gunman dead.
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that Harazin had been specifically targeted, saying he was suspected of "supervising commandos responsible for firing rockets at southern Israel."
In the second of the series of air strikes that began overnight, four Jihad militants were killed in southern Gaza, with an army spokeswoman saying the men "were preparing to fire rockets into southern Israel."
A third air strike killed three militants in a car near the northern town of Beit Lahiya, while two Hamas gunmen were killed in a later air strike near the southern town of Rafah, medics said.
In the occupied West Bank, a local commander of the Al-Quds Brigades was killed by Israeli commandos as he drove in a car in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, medics said.
After Harazin's death was announced, militants filed into Gaza streets, firing automatic weapons into the air as loudspeakers throughout the city bemoaned his death.
More than 10,000 people attended his funeral in Gaza City, crying "Vengeance!" and calling on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to stop revived negotiations with Israel.
They also promised a "veritable earthquake" in response to the killing.
"We vow that the assassination will unleash a wave of martyr operations," Jihad said in a statement, referring to suicide attacks.
"All appropriate means will be used to hit the enemy in Gaza, in the West Bank and inside the 1948 borders," group spokesman Abu Ahmed told AFP.
The Israeli raids came a day after Defence Minister Ehud Barak assured angry residents of Israel's southern town of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza, that the military would take action to stop it.
Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, a close ally of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, hailed the raids, telling army radio that "the terrorists must feel sufficiently in danger as this will allow us to reduce an important part of the rocket fire."
"When we eliminate a senior official who was at the head of a group firing rockets, this damages the capacity of the targeted organisation," he said.
Ramon said that the policy of targeted killings worked, as those in the West Bank had reduced the number of attacks on Israel.
An Israeli government spokesman vowed to pursue such strikes as long as the Palestinian attacks continue.
"Israel's strategy is fundamentally defensive. The surgical targeting of terror infrastructure is designed to defend our population... We will act and continue to act to protect our civilian population," Mark Regev told AFP.
Calls have grown in recent months for the military to launch a widescale ground offensive in Gaza to end the near daily firing of rockets and mortars from the territory, where the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in mid-June.
Most of the home-made projectiles fall without causing casualties, but their psychological impact has left Israelis living around the coastal strip in a perpetual state of shock.
Twelve Israeli civilians have been killed inside Israel by rockets fired by militants from Gaza since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
Last week Israel's security cabinet ruled out launching a large ground operation for the moment. Previous offensives have failed to bring an end to the rocket fire.
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