Israeli airstrike kills al-Qaida militant

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel claimed a significant blow against al-Qaida-inspired militants in the Gaza Strip Sunday, killing one of the most influential leaders from an extreme branch of Islam that has targeted Egypt and Gaza's Hamas rulers as well as Israel.

Hisham Saidani, 43, was killed alongside another militant in the northern Gaza Strip in an airstrike late Saturday, Israel's military said. He was one of the main ideological guides for the ultraconservative Islamic movements in Gaza known as Salafi jihadis.

Militants on jihadi websites identified the other dead man as Ashraf Sabah, 37. They said he was the leader of another al-Qaida inspired group, Ansar al-Sunnah.

Saidani led a small group, "Tawhid wal Jihad," or "Monotheism and Holy War," believed responsible for the killing of an Israeli civilian working along the Egyptian border last June. He was also linked to the Mujahideen Shura Council, another militant group operating in Gaza and Egypt's neighboring Sinai Desert.

Followers of Saidani were responsible for kidnapping and killing Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza in March 2011. Saidani later denounced the act.

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He sought to unite the many groups of ultraconservative Salafis in Gaza, according to jihadis commenting about his death.

In response to Saidani's death, al-Qaida's media arm warned Israel that its "joy will not last long." "We fully trust our brothers that they will be capable of avenging the killing," said a statement by the Global Islamic Media Front, a European group that supports al-Qaida and other extremist organizations. The statement underscored Saidani's prominence among jihadis.

On Sunday, Israeli airstrikes killed three more militants, said Palestinian health spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

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