IAF kills senior Salafist terrorist in Gaza strike

Army says Hithem Masshal was linked to recent rocket attack on Eilat; Netanyahu, approving first such hit since November, vows to defend citizens

Palestinians inspect a motorcycle that was hit in a previous Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip in 2012 (illustrative photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90
Palestinians inspect a motorcycle that was hit in a previous Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip in 2012 (illustrative photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

An IAF aircraft on Gaza Tuesday morning assassinated a senior Salafist terror activist who was reportedly behind an April 17 rocket attack on Eilat from the Sinai.

The IDF and Shin Bet security service confirmed that they had targeted Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, 24, from the Shati refugee camp.

The attack marked the first “targeted strike” on a Gaza terror figure by Israel since November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, and came amid a renewal of sporadic rocket fire into Israel that seemed to show the deterrent effect of November’s operation was eroding.

According to initial reports, Masshal was killed in an airstrike while driving a motorcycle near a Hamas training base. At least one other man was said to have been injured.

Palestinian sources said the target was a police officer.

Masshal, the IDF said in a statement, was active in various Salafist terror groups “and over the past few years has been a key terror figure, specializing in weapons and working with all of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

According to the statement, he had been involved in manufacturing ammunition, “specializing in rockets and explosive devices,” and was involved in the attack on Eilat.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the airstrike was a “continuation” of existing Israel policy rather than an escalation.

“Today we struck at one of those involved in the criminal firing of rockets at Eilat,” he said ahead of a meeting in Jerusalem with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic. “Our action is in continuation of our policy. We will not accept the sporadic firing of rockets from either the Gaza Strip or Sinai. We will act, and are acting, in order to defend Israeli citizens.”

It was the first time Israel targeted a terrorist in Gaza since the end of November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, a concerted effort to curb rocket fire that saw some 1,500 IAF airstrikes on Gaza targets over an eight-day period, and a similar number of rocket attacks from Hamas and other extremist groups in the Strip into Israel.

Since the Egypt-brokered cease-fire, rocket fire from Gaza has largely — but not completely — tapered off, with the Hamas government curbing its own attacks and taking steps to stop rocket fire from other groups.

After the April Eilat attacks, which saw two Grad rockets launched at the coastal city from inside Egyptian territory, a Salafist organization called the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem took responsibility for the fire, which it claimed was in retaliation for Israeli attacks on Palestinian protesters.

The IDF statement said Mashaal was directly linked to the Mujahaideen Shura.

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