Hours after Israel assassinated a senior Gaza terrorist, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned the Strip’s ruling Hamas organization that it would “pay a heavy price” for rocket fire on Israel.
“If [Hamas] doesn’t know how to impose its authority on terrorist organizations operating from its territory we will continue to act to make it, and those who are active in terror and fire at Israel, pay a heavy price,” Ya’alon said in a statement released by his ministry on Wednesday.
The Israeli Air Force launched an airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun early Wednesday morning, killing two men, said by Israel to be terrorists behind some of the missile attacks on southern Israeli towns and communities. The air force said it carried out the strike to stop an imminent attack.
Strikes on high profile targets often draw responses from Gazan rocket launchers. The eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense began in November 2012 with the assassination of Hamas chief Ahmed Jabari.
While Hamas is not seen as behind the latest rocket attacks, Ya’alon said Israel still held it responsible.
“We will not hesitate to continue to act with force in order to hit those who are threatening our security, and we will do that with all the methods and tools at our disposal,” he warned.
President Shimon Peres said that while Israel wants things to be quiet, it won’t refrain from responding when provoked.
“It is important to stress that if it is not quiet on one side then it won’t be quiet on both sides,” Peres said. “The Gaza ruler-ship needs to decide what it wants – exchanges of fire or existence. Israel is interested in things being quiet, but if the quiet is disturbed we will respond with forcefully.”
The IDF identified the target of the strike as Ahmad Zaanin, 21, a commander Gaza-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s military wing, responsible for recent rocket fire against Israel. It said he fired the rockets that targeted Israel after the funeral for prime minister Ariel Sharon ended last Monday. A second man, said to be his relative and a member of Islamic Jihad, was also killed.
The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency identified the second man as Mahmoud Yousef Zaanin, 23.
The men were reportedly sitting in a parked car when it was hit by an IAF missile, residents told Reuters. Unconfirmed photos which claimed to show Ahmad Zaanin circulated on social media shortly after the airstrike.
The IDF said the airstrike prevented an imminent rocket attack against Israel.
“Since 2009 Zaanin, with the cooperation of other terror bodies in the Gaza Strip, has endorsed numerous attacks such as sniping attacks and detonating explosive devices against IDF soldiers,” the IDF said in a statement.
“In his earlier days Zaanin was affiliated with the Islamic Palestinian Jihad, during which the terrorist operated towards the execution of terror attacks, most of which were rocket attacks, against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers,” the military said.
The airstrike came amid increased violence along the Israel-Gaza border. Since January 1, several dozen rockets fired from the Gaza Strip have exploded in Israel, the first escalation of its kind since the ceasefire that ended November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
Earlier this week, three rockets from the Gaza Strip were fired at the western Negev shortly before midnight on Monday. On Tuesday morning, an explosive device detonated near an army patrol along the border fence. There were no injuries.
Earlier Monday evening, two Grad rockets were fired from the Sinai at the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, striking an open area close to the city.
Israel has also taken several defensive measures lately, moving an Iron Dome anti-missile battery to Beersheba and canceling school for some Ashdod students.