A top Salafist leader whose Islamist faction has recently fired rockets at Israel was among three people killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza, sources on both sides said on Sunday.
The first strike, which took place in northern Gaza late on Saturday, killed Sheikh Hisham al-Saedini, 43, head of Salafist group Tawhid wal-Jihad, also known as the Mujahedeen Shura Council.
Saedini, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship who was also known as Abu al-Waleed al-Maqdisi, was riding a motorcycle through the northern town of Jabaliya when the strike hit, medical and security sources said. Fellow activist Fayek Abu Jazar, 42, was also killed. A 12-year-old boy, who was nearby, was wounded.
Israel mounted a second air strike in the southern city of Khan Yunis early on Sunday, killing one militant from the armed wing of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and critically injuring a second, medical and security sources said.
The dead man was named as Yasser Mohammad al-Atal, 23.
The Israeli army confirmed both strikes, saying the early morning raid had targeted "a terrorist squad in the southern Gaza Strip in its final preparations to fire rockets at Israel." The strike came shortly after a rocket hit an open field in the Eshkol region of southern Israel, the military said.
Saedini was one of the top Salafist militants in Gaza who founded the Mujahedeen Shura Council, a Salafist coalition put together in late 2008 which has claimed a spate of rocket attacks on Israel in recent days.
There was no immediate reaction from the group to Saedini's death, with his funeral expected to take place in Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza at noon (1000 GMT). The Israeli army said it had targeted Saedini over his group's involvement in "significant terror activity against Israeli civilians and... soldiers."
It said the group was behind an attack in late January 2009 in which an explosive device hit an army patrol along the Gaza border, killing one soldier and seriously wounding another.
It said Saedini was involved in firing rockets and placing other explosive devices and had, in recent days "been planning a complex attack to be carried out along the Sinai border, a collaboration between Gaza-based militants and Salafi operatives in Sinai."
Salafists are Sunni Muslims who promote a strict lifestyle based on the traditions of the "pious ancestors."
In Gaza, they have made no secret of their disdain for the ruling Hamas movement over its observance of a tacit ceasefire with Israel as well as its failure to implement Islamic law.
Saedini was detained by Hamas following the kidnap and murder of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in April 2011, but was released four months afterwards following Jordanian intervention.
The latest wave of tit-for-tat violence began on October 7 when an Israeli air strike on Rafah critically wounded two Salafist militants, one of whom later died. Another eight people were injured, among them five children.
A day later, the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad unleashed a barrage of fire at southern Israel in what was a rare show of force given that both groups normally observe a truce in rocket attacks on Israel.
The last time Hamas militants fired on Israel was during a flareup in June when militant groups fired more than 150 rockets, wounding five people, and Israel killed 15 Palestinians in air strikes.