REPORTING FROM GAZA CITY -- The Israeli military killed two Gaza Strip-based militants Friday, a targeted assassination that could ignite a new round of violence.
Israeli officials said the two men -- Zuhair Mussah Ahmed Kaisi and Mahmud Ahmed Mahmud Hananni -- were leaders of the Popular Resistance Committee, a militant group that Israel blames for launching an attack in southern Israel last year. Officials claimed the group was planning another attack in coming days.
[Updated March 9, 12:05 p.m.: Several hours later, Israeli forces attacked two more Gaza militants reportedly preparing to fire rockets. Palestinian health officials said both were killed.]
Kaisi was a top leader of the committee, taking over after Israel assassinated the group’s previous chief last year. The group has also been blamed for firing rockets into southern Israel.
Officials of the militant group vowed to retaliate.
“Israel opens the gates of hell by killing our leader,” said PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed. “The Zionist entity will pay a heavy price.”
Israeli officials defended the attack by the Israel Defense Forces, which killed Kaisi and Hananni as they were in a car west of Gaza City.
“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] does not seek an escalation in the region," the military said in a statement. “However, the IDF is prepared to defend the residents of Israel and will respond with strength and determination against any attempt to execute terrorist attacks."
-- Rushdi abu Alouf
Photo: Palestinians carry the body of Zuhair Mussah Ahmed Kaisi, a commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, on Friday in Gaza City. Credit: Hatem Moussa / Associated Press