JERUSALEM — The Israeli air force said it fired a missile at a top Islamic Jihad operative as he rode his motorcycle in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, wounding him. Israel said the man was responsible for a recent series of rockets launched from Gaza.
It was the first targeted killing attempt by Israel in Gaza since April and signals rising tensions.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the target was Ahmad Saad, 22, described as “a key Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative in the Gaza Strip specializing in rocket launching.”
Saad was in serious condition at a Gaza hospital, according to a spokeswoman for the Islamist militant organization Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip. Isra al-Modallah, the spokeswoman, said a 12-year-old boy also was injured in the attack.
The Israeli military said Saad was responsible for five rockets aimed at Ashkelon on the Israeli coast Thursday. They were downed by the U.S.-funded Iron Dome missile defense system. Israel responded by firing missiles at Gaza that struck a weapons storage cache and launchpad, the military said.
Modallah called the targeted killing attempt “a new act of aggression” by Israel.
Photographs of Saad’s motorcycle showed charring and damage to the rear tire and seat, but the bike could still rest upright on its kickstand.
Although Saad was allegedly a member of the Islamic Jihad faction in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that it was ultimately responsible for any rocket fire emanating from Gaza.
“We are determined to preserve the quiet in the south,” Netanyahu said Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting. “We do this through a policy of prevention and by responding powerfully against those who try to harm or hurt us. I suggest that Hamas take our policy into account.”
Netanyahu recently vowed not to let “a drizzle of rockets accumulate into a rain” from Gaza.
In a statement, Islamic Jihad said Israel’s operations in Gaza may lead to the collapse of a November 2012 cease-fire, which ended a brief but intense air war between Hamas and Israel in which both sides fired about 3,000 rockets.
Later Sunday, the Israeli military said it would return the “bodies of terrorists” to Palestinian families, the Associated Press reported. Israeli media said 36 bodies would be returned.