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(photo credit: AP)
An IAF missile hit a car in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, killing its four occupants, an Islamic Jihad Kassam squad. Another strike killed a Hamas operative and leveled a suspected weapons warehouse.
The IDF said the Islamic Jihad members were responsible for dozens of Kassam attacks, including one in November that killed Fatima Slutsker, 57, in Sderot and seriously wounded one of Defense Minister Amir Peretz's bodyguards. The IDF said the squad was intercepted based on intelligence provided by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
In response, Hamas ordered its operatives to limit their movements and to refrain from speaking on cellphones. Hamas also threatened to renew suicide attacks from the West Bank.
Tens of thousands of people on Monday attended a funeral in Gaza City for the people killed in Sunday evening's IAF air strike.
"You are under attack because you are strong, because you are the supporters of the resistance in Palestine," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas told the crowd.
The latest air strikes followed Sunday's security cabinet decision to step up operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad and to begin targeted killings of terrorist leaders and politicians.
The attack in Sderot came as European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were meeting there. Following the attack, Sderot residents threatened to burn the tires of the car carrying the two to protest a lack of protection from rocket attacks.
Hours earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed an order designating Sderot and communities surrounding the Gaza Strip as "conflict zones." The decision will allow residents to receive compensation for direct and indirect damage from Kassam attacks. Monday afternoon, the Knesset Finance Committee authorized a financial benefits package for Sderot residents.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter on Monday said Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was a legitimate target. Senior defense officials said Mashaal was aware that he was a target for Israel and had refrained from visiting the Gaza Strip.
"Khaled Mashaal is not immune, and he is well aware of this," Dichter said.
Other Hamas leaders reportedly being targeted by Israel include Muhammad Deif, commander of Izzadin Kassam (Hamas's military wing) and a master bomb maker; Ahmad Jaberi, an Izzadin Kassam commander in the Gaza Strip; and Khaled Manzour, head of Islamic Jihad's military wing.
According to Dichter, Haniyeh has been a target in the past due to his close relations with Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an IAF air strike in March 2004.
"If Haniyeh is part of a leadership that is planning terrorist attacks, then he, too, is definitely a target," he said.
AP contributed to the report.