GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Friday killed the commander of the militant group behind the 2006 abduction of Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive for more than five years and freed in a prisoner swap for more than 1,000 Palestinians.
The midday attack marked the highest profile Israeli strike against the coastal strip in several months and immediately sparked retaliatory rocket attacks toward Israel.
The Israeli military said it targeted Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, a large militant group closely aligned with Gaza's Hamas rulers. The explosion tore apart al-Qaissi's blue sedan and killed his son-in-law, Mahmoud Hanini — himself a top PRC field commander. Another low ranking Gaza militant also died.
Hours later, Israeli military killed two more militants that it said were about to launch rockets.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli drones were seen hovering above just moments before al-Qaissi's vehicle burst into flames. They said the blast was so fierce that al-Qaissi's head detached as a result.
The Israeli military said al-Qaissi was plotting an infiltration attack into Israel similar to the one he orchestrated in August from the Sinai peninsula that killed eight Israelis and injured 40 more.
The Israeli military said al-Qaissi was also in charge of transferring funds from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to other militant groups in Gaza.