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Death toll climbing after Israel launches rockets at Gaza.
Israeli air strikes killed leading Palestinian militant leader Zohair al-Qaisi and 11 others today in Gaza, BBC reported.
The Israelis said they targeted Qaisi (also spelled Zuheir al-Qessi) of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) because he was planning to attack Israel.
BBC reporter Kevin Connolly said the attack might have been in response to two mortar shells fired at Israel earlier in the day, and it was most certainly in reaction to Qaisi’s efforts last year.
“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,” Connolly writes on the BBC website.
The PRC vowed revenge, and AFP reported dozens of mortars landed in Israel, injuring 4.
Reuters TV video showed hundreds of people milling around a burning vehicle as sirens echoed in the background.
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Footage showed one body being carried away on a stretcher.
“All options are open before the fighters to respond to this despicable crime. The assassination of our chief will not end our resistance,” PRC spokesman Abu Attiya told Reuters.
One of the men killed was PRC member Mahmud Halani.
Reuters said a second attack killed two more militants after dark before the Israeli military said it launched dozens of rockets into Gaza. AFP said 19 more people were injured in the attacks.
Witnesses told The Associated Press they heard drones before Qaisi's car burst into flames.
Qaisi was behind the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held for 5 years before being freed during a prisoner swap, the AP said.
The Hamas Islamist government that controls Gaza accused Israel of “a grave escalation.”
“They want us to sink in darkness and in blood,” government spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Qaisi inherited the PRC leadership after his predecessor died in much the same fashion last year, AFP said.
Qaisi “was among the leaders who planned, funded and directed” an attack that left 15 dead near the Egyptian border last year, the Israeli military said, according to AFP.
The military also claimed he was “responsible for planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days.”
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