Israeli strike on Damascus kills Palestinian figure's son, retaliation shots fired

Rockets targeted home of senior Jihad figure Akram al-Ajour.
Tuesday 12/11/2019
Palestinian militants stand guard outside the home of Islamic Jihad field commander Baha Abu Al-Atta after it was hit by an Israeli strike that killed him in Gaza City November 12, 2019. (Reuters)
Palestinian militants stand guard outside the home of Islamic Jihad field commander Baha Abu Al-Atta after it was hit by an Israeli strike that killed him in Gaza City November 12, 2019. (Reuters)

An Israeli strike on Damascus on Tuesday hit the home of a leading Palestinian figure, killing his son and one other person, Syrian state news agency SANA and his group said.

Militants responded by firing rockets at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv.

Two Israeli rockets targeted the home of a senior figure of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, Akram al-Ajouri, "killing his son Muadh and another person," SANA said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene of the dawn strike saw a partially destroyed three-storey building in a chic neighbourhood of the capital not far from the Lebanese embassy.

Glass had been blasted from one of the windows.

The Islamic Jihad group confirmed Ajouri's son had been killed in the attack, which came as a similar strike took the life of an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza.

"The home of a member of the political bureau of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine, Akram al-Ajouri, was also targeted in Damascus, killing one of his sons," it said.

Hours later, sirens sounded in central Israeli cities, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv the military and witnesses said, warning of possible rocket launches from the Gaza Strip.

Israel's home-front command ordered schools shut across southern and central Israel, and instructed civilians to stay at home and not go into work unless it was vital and public shelters were opened.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Israeli media reported that some of the rockets were intercepted.

The slaying of Baha Abu Al-Atta in his Gaza home looked likely to pose a new challenge for Gaza's ruling Hamas faction, which has mostly tried to maintain a truce with Israel since a 2014 war.

Israel said Atta had carried out a series of cross-border attacks and was planning more.

Israel casts rising Gaza tensions as part of a wider regional struggle with arch-foe Iran. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cited such scenarios in trying to form a broad coalition government after two inconclusive elections this year.

Atta's wife was also killed in the blast that ripped through the building in Gaza City's Shejaia district before dawn, Islamic Jihad said. Two people were wounded.

Shortly after, Palestinian militants launched a salvo of rockets into Israel, setting off sirens as far as its port city of Ashdod, about 20 km (12.5 miles) away, witnesses said.

Video circulated on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed mid-air rocket interceptions by Israel's Iron Dome air defence system. There was no word of casualties or damage. Police closed roads on the Gaza outskirts as a precaution.

In a statement, the Israeli military said Netanyahu had authorised the operation against Atta, blaming him for recent rocket, drone and sniper attacks against Israel, and attempted infiltrations into the country.

"Abu Al-Atta was responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's activity in the Gaza Strip and was a ticking bomb," the statement said, accusing Atta of planning "imminent terror attacks through various means."

An Islamic Jihad statement confirmed the death of Al-Atta, who it said had been in the midst of "heroic jihadist action."

"Our inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity," the statement said, referring to Israel.

Separately, Hamas said Israel "bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation" and pledged that Atta's death "will not go unpunished."

Syrian state media said the Israeli attack in Damascus had been carried out using several missiles, one of which was shot down over the nearby suburb of Daraya.

At the scene of the, a Reuters witness said the top floor of a two-storey building had been completely scorched.

A neighbour said he had been woken up at around (0200 GMT) 4 a.m. by three consecutive explosions that had blown open the doors in his house.

Syrian state media said six people were wounded in the attack, describing the target as a civilian home in Mezzah, a western district of the capital where several foreign embassies are located.

Photos published by state news agency SANA showed damage to a two-storey building and debris strewn over cars.

In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against regional arch foe Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.