GAZA CITY - Agence France-Presse
Palestinians look at the remains of a vehicle after it exploded in Gaza City March 9, 2012. REUTERS photo
Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip yesterday killed four Palestinian militants, including the head of a radical group, after mortar and rocket fire from Gaza pounded the Israeli state.
One strike, on a car travelling in the Tel El-Hawa neighbourhood west of Gaza City, killed the head of the militant Popular Resistance Committees, Zohair al-Qaisi, and fellow-member Mahmud Hanani, the group said.
A second air raid, on the east side of the city, killed Obeid al-Gharabli and Mohammed Harara, of the Al Quds Brigades, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, that organisation said in a statement.
A third strike, on Zeitoun, east of the city, caused no casualties, Palestinian security sources said.
The two strikes came in response to Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks on southern Israel, in which no casualties were reported.
The military said that during the course of the day a total of 11 rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza slammed into southern Israel.
Both the PRC and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, issued statements claiming to have fired rockets into Israel on Friday.
The Israeli military said Qaisi "was among the leaders who planned, funded and directed" a deadly cross-border attack into southern Israel from Egypt's Sinai last August.
In that incident, gunmen carried out a coordinated series of shooting ambushes on buses and cars on Route 12, which runs along the Egyptian border some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
The shootings took place over several hours, leaving eight dead and more than 25 wounded.
The military statement said Qaisi was also involved in a 2008 attack on a terminal for pumping fuel from Israel into the Gaza Strip, in which two Israeli civilians were killed.
The statement added that both the dead men were "responsible for planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days."
It said that the other two strikes were aimed at men about to fire rockets into Israel.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has maintained a tacit truce with Israel, but other armed Palestinian groups regularly fire rockets and mortars across the border, which can spark air strikes in response.
The relatively small Popular Resistance Committees is one of the most active, and it pledged to avenge its men's deaths.
"We are not committed to the truce; we will respond very strongly to this (Israeli) crime," Abu Ataya, a spokesman for the PRC's military wing, the Al-Nasser Salahadin Brigades, told AFP.
Before Friday's air strike, Israeli army radio quoted what it called "senior military sources" as saying the army "does not intend to allow the firing to continue."
On Wednesday, Israeli troops entered northern Gaza, briefly sealing the Erez border crossing between the Palestinian territory and Israel, Hamas officials said.
The military said it had entered the area "to stop terrorist activities."
Israeli troops regularly make brief incursions into Gaza, despite formally withdrawing from the territory in 2005.
They usually do so to raze homes or trees near the border that they claim are used by militants trying to infiltrate Israel, fire rockets or plant explosives along the border area.