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Militant leader dies in Gaza airstrike

Times Staff Writer

An Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday killed a leader of the militant Popular Resistance Committees, which has been responsible for cross-border rocket fire against Israel.

The attack came amid a fresh flurry of salvos by Palestinian militants from the coastal enclave. Israeli military officials said more than 15 projectiles were launched in the 24 hours before the air attack that targeted Mubarak Hasanat.

Hasanat, 35, was a ranking member of the Popular Resistance Committees, which joined the Islamic militant group Hamas in the cross-border capture of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June 2006. Shalit is still missing, and his fate is of deep concern among Israelis.

The Popular Resistance Committees, an assortment of former Palestinian security officers and militants who left other factions, was behind a 2005 attack on the Karni border crossing that killed six Israelis. The group, which has close ties with Hamas, is also believed responsible for a bombing in 2003 that killed three U.S. security guards in Gaza.

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Hasanat was also a senior officer in the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, which oversees security forces in Gaza. An Israeli military spokesman described him as a “senior terrorist” and leader of “an infrastructure that was launching frequent attacks of rockets and mortars.”

The militant leader was struck by an Israeli missile as he drove unaccompanied along a coastal road at the edge of Gaza City.

Israeli forces have relied mainly on airstrikes and limited raids by ground forces along the edge of the Gaza Strip in attempting to quell the firing of homemade Kassam rockets. The crude projectiles are notoriously inaccurate, but have disrupted life in the southern Israeli community of Sderot. More rockets struck around Sderot late Tuesday after the Gaza airstrike.

Also Tuesday, two Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad were killed by Israeli forces during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. An Israeli soldier was slightly wounded during the operation.

ellingwood@latimes.com

Special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.


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