IAF strike kills 2 Kassam cell leaders

Islamic Jihad vows revenge over killing of its members; 3rd attack in 3 days.

Gaza airstrike 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Gaza airstrike 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Two high-ranking Aksa Martyrs Brigades operatives were killed Monday night after the car they were driving in was struck by missiles fired from IAF fighter jets in Gaza City. It was the third targeted killing in Gaza in three days. One was identified as 24-year-old Hassan Asfour - a senior Aksa commander from Beit Lihya and the head of a Kassam rocket cell. The other operative killed was identified as Rami Hanouna, 28, from Jabalya, also involved in the firing of Kassam rockets into Israel.
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Outside the morgue where the charred bodies were taken, an Aksa spokesman who called himself Abu Muhammad threatened revenge against Israel. "The Zionists have opened the gates of hell, and this gate cannot be closed until we uproot them from our land," he said. The army confirmed the attack and said the operatives were on their way to launch Kassam rockets. Israel has stepped up its air strikes in recent days, killing five other terrorists believed to be behind repeated rocket attacks at towns near Gaza. The attack was part of the IDF's "Operation Blue Skies" that began after last week's Kassam rocket attack which severely wounded an infant in Kibbutz Carmiya. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure Israel's security and to eradicate terrorism," army officials said. Also on Monday an IDF soldier was lightly wounded by gunfire at the Kalandiya checkpoint near Jerusalem. He was shot in the arm, but nobody saw the shooter, who had apparently fired from a distance. The wounded soldier was monitoring the cars passing through the checkpoint, and was therefore not inside one of the reinforced positions. Medics first treated him at the scene, and then evacuated him to a nearby IDF base. From there, he was taken to Hadassah-University Hospital in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem. The IDF called in reinforcements to search for the gunman. Traffic leading to the checkpoint was halted in both directions, as the IDF blocked the roads. Meanwhile, in the framework of the ongoing military response directed against terrorists and Kassam rocket launching sites in the Gaza Strip, artillery units continued to shell northern Gaza sites on Monday. The areas hit are uninhabited and are located in the no-go zone established weeks ago by the army in an effort to distance the rockets from Israel. The IDF vowed to step up its military activities in response to Friday's Kassam attack on Kibbutz Karmiya in which four members of a family, including a seven-month-old boy, were wounded. Since then, IDF artillery units have shelled northern Gaza areas day and night in an effort to hamper the movement of Kassam crews. The air force has also launched a number of strikes on targets in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of five terrorists, two affiliated with Fatah's al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and three with Islamic Jihad. Southern Command officers declared the army's response would be harsh and continuous and directed against those involved in terror. Since the IDF stepped up its actions, there have been no Kassams fired at Israel. On Monday afternoon, shots were fired at an IDF post near the northern Gaza security fence. No one was wounded and no damage reported. Details released by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed the arrests of five members of Islamic Jihad in an operation in Nablus on Sunday. According to officials the five were planning to launch an attack in the next few days. Further details of the raid were barred for publication. Elsewhere in the West Bank, security forces arrested 19 Palestinian fugitives. In the predawn operations, nine Hamas fugitives were arrested in Silwad, northeast of Ramallah, and five in Ramallah. Two Fatah fugitives were arrested in Nablus, where troops shot two Palestinians after coming under fire. AP contributed to this report.