Retaliation after Israel kill Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu al-Ata

Retaliation is taking place after Israel successfully launched an air strike to kill the leader of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, Bahaa Abu al-Ata.

The wife of 42-year-old Bahaa Abu al-Ata was also killed in the targeted attack on his home in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

The Israeli military said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Bahaa Abu al-Ata, blaming him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.

“Abu al-Ata was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb,” the Israeli military said, accusing al-Ata of planning “imminent terror attacks through various means”, Al Jazeera reported.

Israel also attacked the home of one of Islamic Jihad’s political leaders Akram al-Ajouri in the Syrian capital Damascus, Islamic Jihad said.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said that “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”

Rivlin added that Israel is in the midst of an ongoing and complex campaign.

“We won’t accept a reality in which hundreds of thousands of citizens live in danger of rocket fire. Israel is determined to defeat its enemies,” Rivlin said.

However, retribution was promised and has begun prompting Israel Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to announce a 48-hour special state of emergency in areas within an 80 kilometres (650 miles) range surrounding Gaza.

“Our inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity,” Islamic Jihad said in confirming the assassination of Bahaa Abu al-Ata at his home in Gaza Strip’s Shejaiya district. At least two other people were hurt in the bombing.

A volley of rockets were fired towards southern and central Israel after the death of Bahaa Abu al-Ata, activating sirens across half the country. The Israeli military said that around 200 rockets have been launched at Israel since Tuesday morning, 20 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Israel in turn attacked Islamic Jihad positions in the Gaza Strip, killing more people.

Hamas, the Palestinian organisation that administers the Gaza Strip, said Israel “bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation”, and promised Abu al-Ata’s death “will not go unpunished”. However Israel has ensured it has not struck any Hamas facilities. Hamass has far greater military weapons than Islamic Jihad and Egypt is negotiating with Hamas to try to stop them retaliating.

Gaza has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade for more than 10 years with the freedom of movement for the population of two million severely curtailed.

Al Jazeera‘s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the killing of Bahaa Abu al-Ata marked “an extremely dangerous escalation” and it was the first time Israel had targeted a leader for “some time”.

Netanyahu warned a protracted period of fighting could follow.

“Israel is not interested in escalation, but we will do everything required to protect ourselves,” he said. “This could take time. What is needed is stamina and cool-headedness.”

Mulhaimar Abu Sadaa, a political science professor at Al Azhar University, told Al Jazeera there was likely to be an escalation between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, depending on the reaction of Hamas.

“If Hamas is going to join the Islamic Jihad we are going to approach further escalation with Israel, but if Hamas is able to contain the Islamic Jihad, with the help of the Egyptians, the situation might be contained or brought under control within two to three days,” he said.

“The Islamic Jihad is the second strongest military organisation in Gaza, after Hamas, and there is a lot of competition between the two groups. It is not easy to say that Hamas will be able to contain the Islamic Jihad. I think the Egyptians and other international mediators like the UN will probably have to be brought in to contain this cycle of violence.

“Generally speaking, Islamic Jihad is funded and supported militarily and politically by Iran, so maybe Iran will play a role whether this cycle of violence will be extended or brought to an end soon.”

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