GAZA, (Reuters) – Israel killed the leader of a Palestinian militant faction on Friday in a targeted attack on a car in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said.
A second man also died in the blast, and a third was injured. The attack came shortly after two rockets were fired at Israel from the coastal territory, causing no damage or injury.
The blast set a small metallic blue car ablaze. At least two of the victims were inside the vehicle when the explosion occurred, witnesses said. Reuters television footage showed one charred body being carried away from the scene.
The Israeli official said one of the dead was Zuheir al-Qessi, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which is an umbrella group that draws together armed activists from different factions.
Medics said the second dead man was Ahmed al-Halani. Locals said he originally came from the West Bank and had been freed from an Israeli jail last year as part of a prisoner swap deal to gain the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
If confirmed, he would be the first of the 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in the deal to be killed by an Israeli strike.
Israel often launches retaliatory attacks after missiles are fired at its territory from Gaza, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.
Al-Qessi was elected chief of the PRC last August after Israel killed his predecessor in an air strike in the southern Gazan town of Rafah.
Israel launched that raid after accusing the PRC of staging attacks along its border with Egypt that killed seven Israelis.