Israel launches deadly air strikes on Gaza

Local men battled to extinguish a large car fire caused by the strike

Israeli air strikes on Gaza have killed at least 12 Palestinians, including a senior militant leader.

Zohair al-Qaisi, secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), was targeted because he was planning an attack, the Israelis said.

Another militant was killed with him. The Islamic Jihad militant group said 10 members of its military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, were also killed.

The Israeli military said dozens of rockets had been fired into Israel.

A spokeswoman said the rocket attacks had injured at least four people, one seriously. Some of the rockets had been intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-missile system, she added.

The rockets were apparently fired in retaliation for the killing of PRC leaders.

Correspondents say it is one of the worst outbreaks of violence along the Gaza border for several months.

Analysis

There is nothing new in Israel's use of its air power to target a Palestinian commander in Gaza.

Zohair al-Qaisi only took over as head of the Popular Resistance Committees when his predecessor in the role died in the same manner last August. And he had already survived an unexplained explosion at his family home in Gaza earlier this year in which at least one person died.

This latest air strike may have been a direct response to the firing of two mortar shells from Gaza into Israel a few hours earlier.

But Israel blames Zohair al-Qaisi for a much larger and more significant assault last summer, a wave of gun and bomb attacks in a single day near the country's southern border with Egypt which left eight Israelis dead.

Ten attackers and five Egyptian soldiers were killed.

The incident was regarded in Israel as an unnerving breach of security, hence the determination to punish those held responsible by the Israeli authorities.

The Israeli strikes mainly took place on Friday, but one militant was killed in a pre-dawn attack on a car on Saturday.

Medical sources say one man was also seriously injured in Friday's attack on the car carrying Qaisi, near Gaza City.

Witnesses say Israeli drones were heard in the area shortly before the car burst into flames, the Associated Press reports.

The first air strike came a few hours after two mortar shells fired from Gaza landed in Israel without causing injury.

The PRC, which represents a number of armed factions aligned with Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, has carried out several rocket and grenade attacks against Israel. It also sometimes operates independently of Hamas.

An Israeli military spokesman said Qaisi was behind a series of gun and bomb attacks near Israel's border with Egypt last year, in which eight Israelis were killed. Ten of the attackers and five Egyptian soldiers also died.

The spokesman warned Israelis living within range of rockets fired from Gaza to stay indoors overnight.

A spokesman for the PRC in Gaza vowed to take revenge on Israel for the attack.

"All options are open before the fighters to respond to this despicable crime. The assassination of our chief will not end our resistance," Abu Attiya, a spokesman for the PRC group told Reuters.

The former head of the PRC, Kamal al-Nairab, and its military chief were killed in a similar Israeli attack last year.

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