The Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip acknowledged Friday that one its operatives was killed during fighting this week between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists.
The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said Ahmed Abdel al-A’al was one its members. A statement from the group did not clarify whether he was taking part in fighting when he died.
According to the military wing, al-A’al, 23, and two of his teenage brothers were killed in a “Zionist bombardment” on Wednesday.
The acknowledgment of al-A’al as a Hamas member came after a 48-hour flareup in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s targeted killing early Tuesday of Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad terror group.
Unlike previous escalations between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades was widely believed to have not actively participated in this week’s fighting, which ended with the announcement of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire early Thursday, though sporadic rocket fire continued throughout the day.
Israel also refrained from attacking Hamas targets. In previous rounds of fighting Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip.
Israel has fought three wars and dozens of skirmishes against terrorist groups since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007.
According to the Ynet news site, the decision to halt combat had led to a major rift within Islamic Jihad, with the organization’s political wing supporting the ceasefire while the military wing wanted to keep fighting.
Palestinian sources told the website that officials in the military wing were demanding that the group quit the joint war room of Gaza’s armed factions over Hamas’s decision not to participate in this week’s combat.
From predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a battle in which over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the IDF responded with dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities and on the terror cells as they were firing and preparing to launch rockets.
The escalation began when an IDF targeted missile strike killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a commander in the Islamic Jihad terror group who Israel said was the “prime instigator” of terrorism from Gaza over the past year.
Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed. Israel said 25 of the fatalities were terrorists; human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.
Fifty-eight Israelis were lightly and moderately injured or treated for anxiety.
Most of the rockets from Gaza either landed in open fields or were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. Some struck homes, businesses and streets, causing injuries and significant property damage. Dozens of people were also hurt as they fell running to bomb shelters.
On Friday schools remained closed in the Gaza periphery, but at noon local councils announced a return to normal life.
Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, warned Gaza-area residents Thursday that the rocket fire might continue even with the ceasefire agreement in place.
The general said the IDF would be working to thwart these attacks. “If we identity launch efforts, we will strike the cells,” Halevi said.
Other Israeli leaders have warned they would not hesitate to return to battle.
Islamic Jihad’s military wing also threatened Israel that it was ready to continue fighting.
Adam Rasgon and agencies contributed to this report.