GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car in Gaza City yesterday, killing a senior commander of a violent Islamic group, the second such air strike this week in the region.
The European Union expressed concern and called on Israel to show “ultimate restraint.”
“In such a critical moment for the region and shortly after the recent appointment of a Palestinian prime minister, we consider that extra-judicial executions, which also caused severe casualties among innocent civilians, are rather unwise and counterproductive,” said the announcement from the EU presidency, which is held by Greece. It did not elaborate or identify which deaths it was referring to.
A U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan is expected to be presented after the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Cabinet are sworn in, probably within weeks.
The plan calls for creation of a provisional Palestinian state.
Israel insists that first, all Palestinian attacks must halt, but Palestinians charge that Israel is trying to sabotage the plan. Yesterday’s air strike killed a top commander of the Islamic Jihad, Mahmoud Zatme, 42, and wounded 12 bystanders.
Palestinians charge that the air strikes are assassinations of their leaders. Human rights groups call them summary executions without trial. Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian militants in targeted operations.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat called the missile strike a “clear attempt by the Israeli government to sabotage any attempt to revive the peace process.”
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Mohammed Al Hindi said the killing of Zatme was a great loss to his movement but vowed to “fight till the last drop of blood in our bodies.”
In Beirut, the Islamic Jihad also issued a statement condemning the killing. But Israeli military sources said Zatme was behind a string of deadly attacks dating back several years, in which dozens of Israelis were killed.
The Israelis made similar charges against Saed Arabeed, 38, a senior commander of Hamas killed in an air strike Tuesday along with six other people, including four civilians.
Hamas is the larger of two violent Islamic groups responsible for attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis during 30 months of violence.