GAZA (Reuters) - Eight people were killed, including a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, and some 40 were wounded when an explosion destroyed a house in the Gaza Strip late on Friday, a group spokesman and local medics said.
The Israeli army denied any involvement. Islamic Jihad said an air strike caused the blast, which also killed three other militants as well as the wife and two young children of the commander, Ayman Fayed, better known as Abu Abdallah.
“We will respond to this Zionist massacre painfully,” Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said.
“We will strike the enemy everywhere.”
A senior figure in the movement linked the incident to Israeli threats to kill senior militants it holds responsible for rockets fired into Israel — and to this week’s killing in Damascus of a top commander of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
An Israeli military spokeswoman denied any role in the Gaza blast, saying: “The Israeli army spokesman announces that the military has no connection to this matter.”
Relatives said a son and daughter of the 41-year-old Fayed, aged 6 and 5, were killed. Three of his other children were wounded.
Rescuers combing the rubble in the dark found one body three hours after the blast, which also damaged surrounding homes.
Some residents of the al-Bureij refugee camp said they believed there had been an air strike. Others said they heard no aircraft noise or other indications before the explosion.
Witnesses at the scene said they saw debris among the rubble of what looked like the locally manufactured rockets the Islamic Jihad and other groups fire at Israeli towns.
Israel has used air strikes on cars in Gaza to kill a number of militants lately but has not bombed a house there since 2006. Militants have also been killed in accidental explosions and faction fighting, while some Palestinians also accuse Israel of using undercover methods to set off explosions in the enclave.
A rocket strike on the Israeli town of Sderot a week ago wounded an 8-year-old boy, increasing popular pressure on the Israeli government to respond to the daily attacks. Ministers have said they may step up attacks on senior leaders in Gaza, where Hamas Islamists, allied to Islamic Jihad, seized control in June from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
A senior Islamic Jihad political leader, Khaled al-Batsh, said Israel was behind the bombing that killed Fayed and linked it to the car bomb in Damascus that killed Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyah — for which Israel also denied responsibility.
“It seems that Israel has decided to escalate its aggression against the resistance in Palestine and Lebanon,” he said.
“We will stand fast.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pursuing a new, U.S.-sponsored peace process with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the occupied West Bank. Both Israel and Abbas have refused to talk to Gaza’s Hamas leaders, and Israel has all but sealed the enclave’s 1.5 million people inside its borders.
Three weeks after Hamas breached the territory’s southern border with Egypt, creating a brief opportunity for people to stock up on supplies, Hamas officials said they told Egyptian counterparts at a meeting on Thursday they were ready for a truce with Israel if the Jewish state ended its blockade of Gaza and all military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Alastair Macdonald in Gaza; editing by Philippa Fletcher