Israel said its warplanes killed a senior jihadist militant in the Gaza Strip on Friday, two days after saying it was weighing a wider campaign to stem an increase in rocket fire from the territory.
Israel’s military identified the man killed as a “senior operative in the global jihad movement” who was suspected of involvement in planning an attack from Egypt.
Palestinians said that Moamen Abu Daff, a member of the Jund Ansar al-Sunna, a small jihadist faction that follows the hardline Salafist brand of Islam, was killed in a raid east of Gaza City that also wounded another man.
There were no banners or flags at his funeral later on Friday and no political speeches were made or slogans chanted by the group of about 100 mourners, although the men present wore the full beards typical of Salafists.
The Israeli military said the strike targeted a group of men preparing to fire a rocket into Israel. Palestinian witnesses said they saw militants in the area immediately before the strike.
“Aircraft targeted a terrorist squad that was identified moments before firing rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip. A hit was confirmed, thwarting the rocket fire attempt,” a military statement said.
“The aforementioned squad is responsible for the firing of rockets at Israel in the past number of days,” it added.
Israeli military sources said on condition of anonymity that Abu Daff “was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week.”
On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes struck twice at what the military called “global jihad” targets in Gaza, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding 10.
Palestinians said the man killed in that strike was also a Jund Ansar al-Sunna member.
Salafist groups in Gaza — which claim to have several hundred militants under their command — reject a tacit truce reached between Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and Israel through Egyptian mediation after a flurry of violence earlier this year.
The hardliners accuse Hamas of going soft on both Israel and the enforcement of Islamic sharia law. The Gaza security forces have not been able to prevent sporadic but persistent rocket fire into Israel.
At least seven rockets have been fired from Gaza over the past 48 hours, but all hit uninhabited areas and caused no casualties and little damage, the Israeli military said.
On Wednesday, a senior Israeli officer said the military was preparing for a possible large-scale military campaign in Gaza if Hamas did not stop the persistent rocket fire by hardliners.
“We are preparing and ready for an additional campaign… to renew the deterrence,” Tal Hermoni, commander of the Gaza division’s southern brigade, said in remarks widely published in the Israeli press.
Israel’s last major operation against Gaza was Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day offensive launched on December 27, 2008 that cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians — at least half of them civilians — and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.