Seven Palestinians were killed Saturday evening in two separate airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. At around 8:30 pm, an Israel Air Force fired a missile at a building near the al-Marazi refugee camp in the central Strip, which killed three members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah's military wing. One of the casualties was identified as Salah Kopah, a senior group member in the Strip.
The Palestinians reported that the three casualties were members of the Shahid Ayman Jouda cells, which took part in a terror attack carried out recently by the Islamic Jihad in Kissufim. The three were hit near a welding workshop, where they were apparently manufacturing ammunition.
Earlier, three members of the al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, were killed as an IAF aircraft fired at least one missile at a car in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. The airstrike took place at around 5:30 pm.
A spokesman for the al-Quds Brigades told Ynet that all three casualties were members of the organization, contradicting the Palestinians' initial report, according to which the three were members of the Salah al-Din Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees military wing.
Among the casualties were Muhammad al-Raei, a prominent member of the organization who fired an RPG missile at an IDF armored personnel carrier at the Philadelphi route on May 2004. An IDF officer and four troops were killed in the incident.
First airstrike (Photo: Reuters)
Another man injured in the aistrike died of his wounds, Palestinian medical sources have reported.
IDF officials reported that the airstrike's main target was Ghanam Diab. The Islamic Jihad confirmed that he was one of the organization's key commanders in the southern Strip. He was responsible for the attack in the Morag outpost on September 2004, in which an officer and two soldiers were killed.
The third casualty was Ra'ed Ghanam, a senior member of the organization's rocket manufacturing unit.
IDF sources said that the airstrike was aimed at thwarting a terror attack against an Israeli target. According to estimations, the cell was in the final stages of planning the attack, and therefore it was decided to launch the strike on Saturday. The same cell had been responsible for planning a number of terror attacks in the past.
Saturday's attack was the second targeted killing since the start of the escalation in the Gaza Strip. The operation was the product of intelligence collected by the IDF and the Shin Bet regarding terror activists responsible for planning attacks against Israel.
'No change in policy'
IDF sources noted that in spite of the army's activity in the Strip in the past week and Saturday's targeted killing, there was no change in the political echelon's policy or in its instructions.
"We are operating on two levels: The first, as we did this week, in ground defensive activities aimed at locating terror infrastructures near the fence and foiling planned terror attacks. The Air Force also takes part in this activity along with the Southern Command. On the second level, we continue to hit senior terrorists planning future attacks. The final message is clear – striking terror wherever it is."
Earlier Saturday, a Qassam rocket was fired at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, landing in an open area near Sderot. There were no reports of injuries or damage. Security forces searched the area in an attempt to locate the landing site.
Two Qassams hit the western Negev on Friday evening. One of the rockets slammed through the roof of a house where an elderly couple lived, then ricocheted into the yard of the neighboring home, where it exploded.
There were no injuries, but the rocket caused severe damage to both houses. A second rocket landed on the premises of the Kal-Katif factory and damaged a storage container. The al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for the attacks.
On Wednesday, 12 Palestinians were killed and some 50 were injured across the Strip as a result of the IDF's activity in the area. Most of the casualties were Hamas and Islamic Jihad members.
The Palestinians claimed that in a number of incidents civilians were killed, including a child, from gunshots fired at houses. Two IDF soldiers were lightly injured in the incidents, as an antitank missile was fired at them.
Raed Abu Pnuna, a senior Islamic Jihad member, was killed the same day as a car exploded next to him. He was considered the al-Quds Brigades' no. 4 commander.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report