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Israeli airstrike kills Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza home

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a cameraman takes video of the damaged building targeted by Israeli missile strikes in the early morning in the Mezzeh area in the capital Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Syria's state-run news agency says Israel has struck a residential building in Damascus housing a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group with two missiles, killing two people. (SANA via AP)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A pair of Israeli airstrikes targeted senior Islamic Jihad commanders in Gaza and in Syria early today, escalating Israel’s confrontation with Iran across the region and threatening to unleash another devastating round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants.

In eastern Gaza, the Israeli strike killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife, setting off a furious barrage of rocket attacks reaching as far as the Tel Aviv heartland as Islamic Jihad vowed further revenge.

The Israeli military said Abu el-Atta was the mastermind of recent attacks against it.

Meanwhile, Syrian officials said an Israeli airstrike in the capital, Damascus, targeted another Islamic Jihad commander, Akram al-Ajouri, who was not harmed.

Syria’s state-run news agency said Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at al-Ajouri’s home, killing his son and granddaughter. The Israeli military had no comment.

The sudden surge in violence looked to awaken Israel’s increasingly open conflict with Iran and its proxies in the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a series of warnings recently about alleged Iranian aggression.

Netanyahu also has been criticized by southern border residents and political rivals for a tepid response to recent militant attacks. Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet was holding an emergency meeting to discuss further action.

The airstrikes come at a tenuous time politically for Israel, as Netanyahu leads a caretaker government after two inconclusive elections. His chief challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, is currently trying to build a coalition government of his own. Gantz said the airstrike was “the right decision.”

A successful military operation could bolster Netanyahu as he seeks to hold onto power — especially if he is indicted on corruption charges.

Israel’s attorney general is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks, and an indictment would increase pressure on Netanyahu to step aside. Netanyahu has sought to portray himself as the only leader capable of steering the country through its many security challenges.

The Gaza airstrike took place overnight, killing Abu el-Atta as he slept at home.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, told reporters that Abu el-Atta was a “ticking time bomb,” responsible for a number of recent rocket attacks on southern Israel and claimed that he was actively planning new attacks.

“We essentially over the last week have been waiting for the opportune moment to conduct this surgical strike,” he said.