One Islamic Jihad operative was critically wounded and the exact condition of three others was unknown on Monday evening after an IAF missile hit the car in which they were traveling near Khan Younis in the northern Gaza Strip. The critically wounded man was evacuated to a hospital.
The four were reportedly cell members who were on their way to launch Kassam rockets at Israel.
Ten days ago, an IAF aircraft attacked a terrorist training camp in Gaza City, killing five gunmen - including four relatives of a top commander, Palestinian officials said.
Earlier Monday, the Islamic Jihad condemned the previous day's IDF operation in which special forces operating in the Jenin area shot dead seven Palestinians - among them Israel's most-wanted terrorist, believed to have been behind all the Islamic Jihad suicide attacks during the past year, including the latest bombing in Tel Aviv.
After the bloodiest violence in the West Bank in months, the terrorist group said it would continue its incessant attacks against Israeli targets.
In Sunday's operation, IDF troops and elite border policemen surrounded a home in the village of Kabatiya, near Jenin, after receiving intelligence that top Islamic Jihad terrorist Elias Ashkar was holed up inside. After the troops encircled the home, they were fired upon. They returned fire, killing Ashkar and four others.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman said Monday that [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz was worse than his predecessor, [Shaul] Mofaz.
"This just proves that there are no doves in Israel," said the spokesman.
Earlier in the day, a Palestinian policeman was shot dead by troops during an arrest raid in Jenin.
Among the dead in Kabatiya were Said Hanisheh, 24, an Aksa Martyrs Brigades operative wanted by Israel, and his brother Mujahed, 25, who Palestinians said was not known to be a terror suspect. Later, armored bulldozers were brought in to demolish the house. Troops later shot dead another Palestinian, Jihad Kumayl, 19, who was throwing rocks at the soldiers during the operation.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed Sunday that Ashkar - dubbed Israel's No. 1 terror suspect - assembled the explosives belt used in the Tel Aviv suicide bombing last month that killed 11 people, two of whom died of their wounds this past weekend. Ashkar was held responsible by Israel for planning all of the Islamic Jihad suicide bombings in the past year including the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv which killed four, two suicide bombings in Netanya which killed eight, and a suicide bombing in Hadera in October in which five Israelis were killed. In total, he was held accountable for the murder of close to 40 people.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who last week approved Sunday's operation, praised the IDF. "This is an important achievement in the war on terrorism," he said. "This operation matches our policy to continue waging war on terrorists while trying to ease restrictions on the Palestinian people where we can."
Ashkar, intelligence sources said, was in the midst of planning a suicide attack set to be launched in the coming weeks. He was also behind several recent thwarted terror attempts including the dramatic capture last month of a suicide bomber on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Security officials predicted that the number of terror alerts would drop as a result of his death.
Ashkar, the Shin Bet said, received funding directly from Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus.
"None of his terror plans would have reached their operational stage if the terror cell had not received funding from the Islamic Jihad headquarters in Syria," a security official said. "This money is fuel for terror and enables the terrorists to purchase weaponry and explosives and to recruit suicide bombers."
Also on Sunday, a navy patrol thwarted an attempt to smuggle half a ton of high-grade TNT explosives into the Gaza Strip by sea. This was the second thwarted attempt in less than a week.
Early in the morning, a navy Dabur vessel spotted a Palestinian fishing boat crossing from Egypt into the waters off Gaza. The navy boat chased the fishing boat and eventually caught up with it, finding eight sacks filled with explosives and pieces of old and dismantled mines. Two Palestinians who were on the boat were detained and transferred to the Shin Bet for further questioning.
Commander of the Ashdod Naval Base Col. Yoram Laks said he hoped the capture would serve as a deterrent to other Palestinians who were thinking of trying to smuggle weaponry into the Gaza Strip by sea. The navy, he added, had recently reinforced its presence near the Gaza coast to prevent additional arms smuggling.