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Death toll from Gaza airstrikes rises to 3

Oct. 14, 2012 9:55 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 14, 2012 10:33 P.M.)
Correction appended

GAZA CITY (Reuters) -- An Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed a Palestinian gunman and wounded another on Sunday, hospital officials said, hours after Israel killed the leader of a Salafi militant group.

An Israeli military spokesman said the men targeted in southern Gaza had been preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Medics said Yasser al-Atakal, 24, was killed in the strike on his motorbike east of Khan Younis, and another person was seriously wounded.

The air strike came hours after Israel killed two other militants in a similar attack in the northern town of Jabalia late on Saturday.

Both Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Israel identified one of the men killed in the earlier attack as Salafi leader Hisham Al-Saedni, 47, also known as Abu Al-Walid Al-Maqdisi.

Salafi leader Ashraf al-Sabah was also killed in the strike, while 10-year-old boy who was passing by the area was also wounded, a Ma'an correspondent said.

Hamas said Saedni had headed Tawhid and Jihad, a group with an Islamist ideology shared by al-Qaida, while the Israeli military said he had helped found a kindred militant Salafi movement, the Hashura Council of the Mujahideen.

Saedni had recently been planning a attack that would be carried out in the neighboring Egyptian Sinai, the Israeli military said in a statement. The desert peninsula has seen a surge of Islamist militant activity during the political upheaval rocking Cairo since early 2011.

A number of Jihadist Salafi groups have surfaced in Gaza in recent years. Unlike Hamas, they endorse an ideology of global Jihad and some accuse Hamas of failing to implement Islamic laws in the coastal enclave.

Al-Saedni became notorious after men claiming affiliation to Tawhid and Jihad kidnapped Italian political activist Vittorio Arrigoni in April 2011, and demanded the Salafi leader's release from Hamas-run jail in exchange.

Al-Saedni was called in by security forces to negotiate with the kidnappers during a police raid, which ended in two of the kidnappers being shot. The Salafi leader was released from Gaza jail in September 2011 and has since kept a low profile.

Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for any attacks launched from Gaza, which has been under the group's control since 2007. Hamas rejects permanent peace with Israel and the border is tense with frequent clashes. About 40 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in October.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report

(This version corrects the identity of the second man killed in the Saturday night airstrike.)
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