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Israel missile kills Islamic Jihad militant in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) - A missile fired by an Israeli aircraft killed a Palestinian militant riding a motorcycle in the Gaza Strip close to the border with Israel on Tuesday, the Israeli army and the Islamic Jihad militant group said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the air strike had been aimed at the Islamic Jihad militant who had planned to carry out an attack inside Israel.

The group identified the dead militant as Mohammed Najjar, 24, and said he had previously been wounded in the head in fighting during the three-week Gaza offensive that Israel launched in late 2008.

It was the third targeted killing of militants by Israel in the past few weeks after a long period in which the Jewish state had refrained from the practice following the Gaza offensive.

Islamic Jihad threatened to retaliate and said in a written statement: “All options are open to respond to this assassination crime.”

Local residents said the air strike took place east of the town of Khan Younis in the central Gaza Strip and wounded another man, who was not immediately identified.

Palestinian militants have stepped up cross-border rocket attacks on southern Israel in recent weeks and Israel has responded with air strikes.

Militants have launched at least 20 rockets and mortar bombs into Israel since the start of 2011, an army spokeswoman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing foreign journalists in Jerusalem, warned the militant groups of severe consequences if the rocket fire continued, although he did not specify what Israel might do.

“They will make a terrible mistake to test our will to defend our people. They will make a terrible, terrible mistake,” Netanyahu said.

The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers have told other militant factions in the coastal enclave that they will work to ensure a cease fire is held, a call reflecting concern that Israel might mount another offensive in the territory.

“The (Hamas) government will carry out its role in reinforcing the national agreement (to a ceasefire) and

committing all parties to it ... to spare the Palestinian people any new Zionist aggression,” a Hamas statement said.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton