8 militants killed in Gaza airstrikes

Israeli aircraft launched an assault on the radical Islamic Jihad organization from the skies over Gaza, killing eight of the organization's men in three fiery strikes overnight.

In an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening "a wave of martyrdom operations."

Early Tuesday, an Israeli air-to-ground missile killed three Islamic Jihad gunmen, including a senior commander, as they emerged from morning prayers at a northern Gaza mosque.

That attack came on the heels of a pair of airstrikes after nightfall Monday. Israeli aircraft blasted two cars in Gaza City, killing five Islamic Jihad militants, including the group's overall commander in Gaza and the West Bank and a master rocket maker.

Gaza militants fire near-daily rocket barrages at Israeli towns. The projectiles have killed 12 people, and cause widespread hardship in communities in Israel's south. Islamic Jihad, a small radical group with ties to Iran, has taken responsibility for most of the barrages.

Early Tuesday, the group also announced that its commander in the northern West Bank had been killed by an undercover Israeli unit. But the Israeli military, which usually takes responsibility for such operations, said it had no knowledge of the incident.The airstrikes in Gaza on Monday night came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was gaining support at an international donors conference in Paris. They pledged $7.4 billion over the next three years, far more than the moderate leader who controls the West Bank expected.

Abbas is locked in a deadly struggle with the Islamic Hamas, which overran Gaza in June, and its ally, Islamic Jihad.

The target of the first Israeli airstrike in Gaza City late Monday was Majed Harazin, a senior Islamic Jihad militant in charge of rocket squads that have been firing at Israel, the military said.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Khaled el-Batch confirmed that Harazin was killed in the first attack. He was the top Islamic Jihad commander for both the West Bank and Gaza, the group said, and he rarely traveled in vehicles for fear of an Israeli airstrike.

Another militant was killed and a third critically wounded in the airstrike, hospital officials said.

Gunfire erupted throughout Gaza after Harazin's death was announced by Islamic Jihad over mosque loudspeakers. An Islamic Jihad official called his death a serious blow to the militant group.

Islamic Jihad supporters gathered around the morgue and pledged revenge. "The blood of our comrades will be the fuel for the rockets that will bring death and destruction to the Zionists," another Islamic Jihad spokesman, Abu Hamza, told The Associated Press.

In the second airstrike, shortly before midnight, the military said its aircraft targeted a cell that was about to fire rockets at Israel. Undercover agents took part in the attack, the military said, and the leader of the cell was killed. Two other militants also died.

Both Israel and Islamic Jihad identified him as Karim al-Dahdouh, known as a master rocket maker. The Israeli missiles obliterated a car on a narrow road, and rescue teams searched for body parts in a nearby grove.

Hamas radio said the car was filled with explosives and warned people to stay away, but people crowded around the burning vehicle. Witnesses said the initial blast was followed by smaller explosions after the car was hit while slowing down near a mosque.

The third strike, early Tuesday, killed three more of the group's men and critically wounded a fourth. Four civilians also were wounded, medical officials said.

The Israeli military often targets militants in airstrikes and ground operations, aiming for squads involved in daily rocket fire.

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