Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a Hamas-aligned militant group, was targeted in a midday strike as his car rolled through Gaza City.
The strike is the highest-profile in Gaza for months and sparked an immediate burst of retaliatory rocket fire as well as fears that the violence may escalate in coming days. Militant groups responded by firing dozens of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, reportedly injuring four people.
Israel said al-Qaissi was plotting an attack similar to the raids in August last year, where four groups of militants crossed over the border from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and killed six civilians and two members of the security forces.
Al-Qaissi was reportedly also in charge of funneling money the Lebanese group Hezbollah to militant organisations in Gaza. His predecessor, Kamal Nairab, was killed by a similar Israeli strike seven months ago.
A PRC spokesman promised retribution for yesterday’s attack, saying: “We shall avenge our leader and the response, God willing, will be equal to the size of the heinous crime.”
The PRC are among the most active groups firing rockets into Israel but are best known for orchestrating the kidnap of Mr Shalit in June 2006. The Israeli soldier was held for more than five years until Israel agreed to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure his release in October last year.