Palestinian Islamic Jihad declared Tuesday that it was preparing for war with Israel after the IDF carried out a dawn assassination of one of the terror group’s senior leaders in the northern Gaza Strip.
“These terrorist crimes are aggression and a declaration of war on the Palestinian people, and the enemy bears responsibility for them,” PIJ said in a statement following Israel’s targeted killing of Baha Abu al-Ata.
“The Al-Quds Brigades [PIJ’s military wing] and the valiant resistance, which announced a mobilization [of its fighters] and started to hit back against this aggression and terrorism, will continue to forcefully and courageously defend the dignity of the Palestinian people,” it said.
According to the Al-Quds Brigades, Abu al-Ata, 42, was “one of the most prominent members of its military council and the commander of the northern part of the [Gaza Strip].”
“We are going to war. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in assassinating Al-Quds Brigades Commander Baha Abu al-Ata. We will respond forcefully,” PIJ Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhala told the Dar al-Hayat Arabic-language news site.
The Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said the assassination of Abu al-Ata would not pass without a “punishment.”
“Our Palestinian people bid farewell today to a commander and fighter who followed the path of martyred leaders. We in Hamas affirm that the Zionist enemy will bear responsibility for all the consequences and ramifications of this escalation and dangerous attack,” Hamas said in a statement.
“The path of fighting and resistance is on the rise and the crime of assassinating the commander Abu Salim will not come to pass without a punishment,” Hamas added, using Abu al-Ata’s nickname.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said that Israel’s assassinations would not deter the terror groups in Gaza from fighting the Jewish state.
“The policy of assassinations, which the occupation considers a part of its security creed, has and will not succeed in changing the fighting creed of the resistance factions and forces,” he said in a statement.
“This aggression will push our people to cling to all of their principles and rights, strengthen its strategic options represented in resisting the occupation and fortify the alliance of the resistance factions [standing] in the same trench,” he added.
Speaking at the funeral for Abu al-Ata, Hamas official Ismail Radwan said at Omari Mosque that Hamas’s Qassam Brigades military wing would stand shoulder to shoulder with Islamic Jihad.
“We say to the occupation: If you want to single out the Al-Quds Brigades, we say today that the Qassam Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades are twin brothers standing together,” he said. “Your blood is our blood. Your blood is our blood. O you commander, your blood is our blood.”
In the West Bank, senior Palestinian Authority and PLO official Saeb Erekat said Israel’s government “bears full responsibility for the consequences of this crime,” in a statement carried by the official PA news site Wafa.
Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip participated in the funeral procession for Abu al-Ata on Tuesday morning.
His body was brought from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to his family’s home in Shejaiya and then to the Omari Mosque, the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today reported.
PIJ also reported that the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of its politburo, was targeted in Damascus, leading to the death of one of his sons.
The Israel Defense Forces ordered schools closed in southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, as terror groups in the Gaza Strip launched dozens of rockets at cities and towns in retaliation for the assassination.
More than 50 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at central and southern Israel on Tuesday as of 9:10 a.m., according to the IDF. Soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down 20 of those incoming projectiles, the military said.
Rocket attacks began shortly after the 5 a.m. killing of Abu al-Ata, most of them focused on Israeli towns and cities surrounding the northern Gaza Strip. In addition, shortly after 7 a.m., rocket sirens sounded in the Tel Aviv suburbs of Rishon Lezion and Holon.
An hour later, sirens blared in the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and in the nearby suburbs of Bat Yam and Holon, and later in Tel Aviv itself and nearby Modiin.
One Israeli was lightly injured by shrapnel after a rocket landed near Gan Yavne, Magen David Adom emergency services spokesman Zaki Heller said the man was treated at the scene by paramedics.
Medics also resuscitated an 8-year-old girl who lost consciousness during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on the city of Holon, though it was not immediately clear if her injuries were related to the rocket fire.
Six other Israelis were hospitalized after sustaining minor injuries while running for cover during Red Alert sirens.
The military said it had sent a number of warnings to Abu al-Ata — through unidentified mediators — to call off his operations, but they went unheeded.
“We tried to send a message to Abu al-Ata and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that we are aware of his actions and to persuade him to stop these attacks. Obviously, these warnings were not successful,” said IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus.
Conricus said the assassination did not signify “a return to previous policies of what has been termed in the media ‘targeted killings.’”
“We conducted the attack because there was no other choice,” he said.
The army spokesman said the military saw its chance on Tuesday morning when Abu al-Ata was relatively isolated and the risk to civilians was less.
Conricus said the military did not believe that Abu al-Ata was acting on the orders of Iran, which backs the PIJ, but was “more a local terrorist who acted unchecked.”
Assassinations of Palestinian leaders in Gaza have become rare events. In May, during the most serious flareup in recent years, when Palestinian terrorists fired more than 700 rockets into Israel, the IAF killed Hamed Hamdan al-Khodari, who it said was responsible for funneling money from Iran to Gaza terror groups.
Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.