Israeli airstrike kills militant commander in Gaza

IBRAHIM BARZAK Associated Press Published:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- An Israeli airstrike killed a top Palestinian militant commander and a second militant in Gaza on Friday in the highest profile attack against the coastal strip in months.

The Israeli military confirmed the strike, saying the slain commander Zuhair al-Qaissi was plotting an infiltration attack into Israel similar to one his group carried out in August that killed eight people. In a statement, the military warned Gaza's Hamas rulers against any retaliation for the strike.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli drones were seen hovering above just moments before a vehicle exploded into flames, just outside of Gaza City.

Al-Qaissi was the top commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, a large militant group aligned with Hamas. The group's spokesman confirmed his death. He identified the second casualty as Mahmoud Hanini, who hails from the West Bank and was released from an Israeli prison five years and deported to Gaza.

"The coward Zionists have committed an ugly crime and they know the price that they are going to pay," said the spokesman, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Mujahid.

Israel often targets Gaza militants it says are preparing attacks, but tensions have been relatively calm in recent months with Israel mostly targeting smuggling tunnels from Egypt and refraining from targeting individuals. Al-Qaissi, 55, who is also known as Abu Ibrahim, is the highest profile casualty in Gaza in months.

Another Gazan was seriously wounded in the attack. His identity remains unclear.

The Israeli military said that al-Qaissi was also in charge of transferring funds from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to other militant groups in Gaza.