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Haytham al-Mishal, 29, was struck by a missile while he was riding a motorcycle in a blast that injured another person.
An Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian in Gaza City on Tuesday, in the first targeted killing since a ceasefire was called in November.
Haytham al-Mishal, 29, was struck by a missile while he was riding a motorcycle.
The blast injured at least one other person, with another bystander possibly injured.
Israel claims that al-Mishal was one in a group of militants that fired rockets at the southern Israeli city of Eilat two weeks ago. The military described him as “a key terror figure,” according to The New York Times. Palestinian officials, however, described him as a police officer.
The strike comes amid escalated tension along the Israel-Gaza border. Recent days have seen rocket fire from Palestinians into Israel and Israeli airstrikes in response.
But Tuesday's assassination was a loud and clear warning that "Israel will not ignore what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today called the 'sporadic firing of rockets' from Gaza," says GlobalPost senior correspondent in Jerusalem, Noga Tarnopolsky.
Israeli Defense Forces' spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, said Israel does not believe Hamas was behind the recent rocket launches, but holds the Islamist movement responsible for "any firing out of Gaza."
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is either unwilling or unable to rein in more extreme Salafi militants that both challenge its rule and want to continue to fire rockets at Israel. The fundamentalist fighters operate both inside Gaza and in Egypt's neighboring Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian government is weak.
"The dozen or so rockets launched from Gaza into Israel over the past few weeks expose, among other things, an ongoing power struggle between Hamas and more amorphous Salafist organizations," Tarnopolsky says.
Hamas has backed-off launching attacks against Israel in the wake of a deadly Israeli military offensive in Gaza in November.
Right now, neither Israel nor Hamas are interested in escalation, Tarnopolsky says.
"Despite the lack of enthusiasm for battle among the principal agents here, with all of the interests at play, there is a real concern violence could grow," she said.
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