Israel Air Force planes on Sunday morning targeted a terrorist cell in the southern Gaza Strip that was preparing to launch a rocket into Israel, the Israel Defense Forces said. One Palestinian was killed and another wounded in the airstrike, according to Palestinian hospital officials.
Earlier on Sunday, two rockets fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip exploded in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, causing no damage to property or injuries, Army Radio reported.
Sunday's violence came a day after two Global Jihad operatives were killed when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the motorcycle they were riding on in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip. The two men were said to be involved in planning an attack on Israel.
According to Palestinian media, during the operation, which Israel said was a joint effort by the IDF and the Shin Bet, a third person, who was also a member of Global Jihad, was severely wounded in the attack and taken to a local hospital.
A statement released by the Shin Bet said that among the victims was Hisham Saedni, 47, from the Barij village in the Gaza Strip, a founder of the "Shura Council of Mujahedin in Jerusalem," an organization believed to be affiliated with the global al-Qaida terrorist network. The organization is known to have been involved in many terrorist-related incidents against Israeli citizens and soldiers. It has also taken responsibility for a Grad rocket attack on Netivot on Friday night in which a home was damaged.
According to Reuters, the two Gaza terrorists killed by Israel on Saturday were the most senior al-Qaida affiliates in the Palestinian enclave, and one had links to jihadi networks in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, sources said on Sunday. Hisham al-Saedni and Ashraf al-Sabah, who were killed by an air strike as they rode a motorcycle, were ultra-conservative Salafi Islamists. Armed Salafis, while a fringe presence in Gaza, have been stepping up violence against Israel while at times clashing with the Palestinian Hamas government. They also operate in the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai.
Saedni and Sabah were leaders, respectively, of the Tawhid wa-Jihad and Ansar Al-Sunna groups, two Salafi sources said. The movements share al-Qaida's vision of global jihad and opposed the more "pragmatic" Islamism espoused by Hamas and Cairo's politically dominant Muslim Brotherhood.
The men had recently merged their groups to form the umbrella Majles Shoura Al-Mujahideen (Holy Warriors' Guidance Council), the sources said, becoming the de facto heads of the diffuse Gaza jihadi network.
"Their blood will be a light to guide the holy warriors through the right path and will be fire that will burn the Jews," one of the sources told Reuters, saying reprisals would not be limited to the short-range rocket launches that are Gaza terrorists'' favoured mode of attack on Israel.
The Salafi sources said Gaza-born Saedni, 47, had lived in Egypt and Jordan and had fought for al-Qaida in Iraq. He had been wanted by Egypt on suspicion of involvement in attacks on tourist sites there.
"The Global Jihad is stepping up its efforts to target us, and we will continue to interdict it with aggression and might, in terms of both response and pre-emption," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli cabinet in Jerusalem on Sunday.
In a sign of Salafi assertiveness in Gaza, about 500 mourners attended Saedni's and Sabah's funerals on Sunday. Some wore the smocks typical of the al-Qaida bastions in Pakistan and Afghanistan but relatively uncommon among Palestinians.
The "council" has been promoting a radical brand of Salafist jihadism for years, and Saidni was incarcerated for a prolonged period by Hamas authorities due to his activities as a member of Islamic Jihad. Since his release from a Hamas prison in August, Hamas has reportedly been planning a multipronged attack on Israel from the Sinai Peninsula with the help of Gaza Strip- and Sinai-based operatives.
In addition to the attack on Friday, the IAF also struck two terrorists targets in the central Gaza Strip in response to the Grad attack on Netivot.
An IDF spokesman said, "The IDF will not tolerate any attack on Israeli citizens and soldiers and will continue to operate with resolve and force against anyone who conducts terrorist activities against Israel. The Hamas organization is the address and they are responsible."
On Friday night, when many Israelis were enjoying their Sabbath evening meal, a siren indicating the launch of a Grad rocket was sounded in Netivot. The rocket exploded in the yard of a home causing damage to the structure and two residents were treated for shock.
"We were at the end of the evening meal when we heard the siren," Karin Amar, a resident of Netivot whose yard was hit by the rocket, said. "We went into the security room quickly. It was the only room that was not damaged in the home. This is the way we live in these times and we just have to live with it."
An hour before the rocket struck, Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota left the area after receiving a tour and explanation of what life was like for Israelis living near the Palestinian border.
In the past week, several rockets were fired at Israel, at least three of which exploded near Netivot and the nearby towns. The rockets were fired at the end of the Sukkot holiday, following an earlier barrage of 60 rockets and mortars.