Israeli Airstrike Kills 5 Gaza Militants

JERUSALEM -- Israeli aircraft killed 5 Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad group whom it says were responsible for recent rocket attacks on Israel, the military said Saturday.

The military said it targeted the same group of militants that fired rockets that exploded near the Israeli city of Ashdod Wednesday night. No Israelis were injured in that attack.

A military spokesman said the militants were hit as they were preparing to launch more rockets at Israel. The military "will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians," he said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with military protocols.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said 5 men were killed and another 11 injured in an explosion inside a militant training site in southern Gaza.

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Islamic Jihad is one of the militant groups in Gaza that frequently fires rockets into southern Israel, prompting Israeli reprisal strikes.

The group vowed revenge in a text message sent to reporters. "Our response shall be in the depths of the Zionist entity," it said in reference to the Israeli heartland.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed said one of its local field commanders, Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, was killed. He said Khalil was one of the group's chief bomb makers. "Today it was a great loss for us in the Islamic Jihad," he said. "The size of our retaliation will equal our loss."

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad took responsibility for multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks against civilians in Israel during the second Palestinian intifadah, or uprising, in the first half of the last decade.

Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, blamed each other for the flare up in violence Saturday.

"The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," the Israeli military said.

Israel as a matter of policy holds Hamas liable for violence perpetrated by any of the different armed groups in the coastal territory.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum meanwhile said Israel is "fully responsible for all the results of this dangerous escalation."

In the winter of 2008, Israel launched a broad military offensive inside Gaza aimed at stopping almost daily Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities.

Since then, violence has continued sporadically along the border and Palestinians continue to launch mortars and rockets at Israel, but to a much lesser degree.

On Wednesday, militants fired a long range Grad-style Katyusha rocket that exploded near Ashdod in the south of the country.

Sirens also went off in the central Israeli city of Rehovot, which unlike many southern Israeli cities is not accustomed to rocket fire, causing panic. The Israeli army says that it is investigating why the alarm went off.