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Israel airstrike kills Hamas commander

JERUSALEM, July 31 (UPI) -- Hamas confirmed Saturday one of its senior leaders was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza that left a dozen people injured.

Israeli military jets followed up that attack with another round Saturday night, The Jerusalem Post reported. An Israeli military representative said the latest attack targeting a tunnel allegedly used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip was in retaliation for a Kassam rocket that damaged a building near Sderot, the Post said.

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Israel said in a statement it "will not tolerate any attempt to hurt Israeli citizens or soldiers and will continue to demonstrate perseverance and strength against anyone attempting to terrorize Israel."

The slain senior Hamas military commander, Issa al-Batran, 40, had survived five previous attempts on his life by Israeli forces, including one during Operation Cast Lead last year that killed his wife and five children, Israel's Ynetnews reported.

Friday night's air raid was called one of the heaviest Israeli attacks on Hamas since Operation Cast Lead and brought calls for revenge from the militant organization.

Israel said the raids were a response to recent rocket attacks on its territory from Gaza, one of which involved a 122-millimeter Chinese-made Grad rocket that destroyed several parked cars in the town of Ashqelon.

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"No doubt, this is the most serious event since Operation Cast Lead," Benny Vakin, the mayor of Ashqelon, said. "Hundreds of people live here. It's just luck that no one was killed.

The Guardian said some Middle East observers opined that the use of the sophisticated Grad missile was aimed at undermining talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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