GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli aircraft attacked a motorcycle in Gaza on Tuesday, killing a top militant in a shadowy al-Qaida-influenced group who had been involved in a recent rocket attack on southern Israel.
It was the first deadly airstrike in Gaza since a truce was reached with Palestinian militants last November, and is the most serious test yet of the Egyptian-brokered agreement.
The strike came alongside the fatal stabbing of an Israeli settler in the West Bank, the first killing by a Palestinian of an Israeli in the territory in more than a year.
The aircraft hit the motorcycle northwest of Gaza City, killing the driver and wounding a passenger. A bystander was also wounded, according to Gaza medical officials.
The Israeli military said it killed Haitham Mishal, a jihadi militant involved in an April 17 rocket attack on the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat and other violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned recently that Israel would not tolerate rocket fire from either the Gaza Strip or Egypt's Sinai desert.
"We hit today one of those involved in the despicable rocket fire on Eilat. I said that we would not be quiet over that," Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Tuesday's airstrike showed strains in a five-month cease fire brokered by Egypt last November that ended eight days of exchanges between Israel and Hamas. Under the deal, Gaza militants pledged to halt rocket attacks on Israel, while Israel said it would end its policy of assassinating wanted militants.
After months of relative calm, the truce has begun to unravel. Palestinian militants have sporadically fired rockets into southern Israel in recent weeks. The Israeli air force has responded with strikes on training sites and suspected weapons storage sites in Gaza. Until Tuesday, there had been no casualties.
In a statement, the Israeli military said Mishal was involved in the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a murky al-Qaida-inspired group that has claimed responsibility for a number of rocket attacks, including the Eilat incident.
The group confirmed that he was a member.
"We will miss you and the enemy positions will miss you, too, as you have not hesitated any day to pound them by rockets to turn their night into daylight and their daylight into fire," Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem said in a statement.
Israel viewed the rocket attack on Eilat, a normally tranquil oasis that borders the Red Sea and Egypt's Sinai desert, as an escalation. It accused Gaza militants of firing the rockets, which caused no injuries, out of Egypt's lawless Sinai desert.