GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- An Israeli airstrike killed the
commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza Wednesday and Israel
pounded dozens of targets in Gaza in the most intense attack since an
Israeli offensive four years ago.
The killing of Ahmad Jabari
marked a dramatic resumption of Israel's policy of assassinating
Palestinian militant leaders and the Israeli military said it was the
beginning of a major offensive codenamed "Pillar of Defense."
called for harsh retaliation. The airstrikes came after a weekend
exchange of Gaza rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes appeared to have
abated. The Israeli offensive was likely to re-ignite the conflict.
string of airstrikes around Gaza followed. The military said its
aircraft targeted more than 20 facilities that served as storage or
launching sites for rockets. Among the weapons destroyed were rockets
that could hit as far as 25 miles into Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his senior Security Cabinet after sundown Wednesday, officials said.
announced a state of emergency in Gaza. It evacuated all its security
buildings and deployed its troops in Gaza away from their locations.
was the most senior Hamas official to be killed since the last war in
Gaza ended in early 2009. He has long topped Israel's most-wanted list,
blamed for in a string of deadly attacks, including the kidnapping of
Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
In addition to Jabari,
eight other people were killed in the strikes. Of the nine, three were
confirmed as militants, two were children and the identity of others had
yet to be determined, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Also,
30 people were wounded.
On its Twitter feed, the Israeli military
said it could be escalated further. "All options are on the table. If
necessary, the (Israeli military) is ready to initiate a ground
operation in Gaza," it said.
In a radio interview, the chief
military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said "at this stage"
there are no plans for a ground offensive. "We're focusing on an air
operation," he said.
Outside the hospital where Jabari's body was taken, Hamas official Khalil al-Haya eulogized Jabari and threatened Israel.
battle between us and the occupation is open and it will end only with
the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem," an emotional al-Haya said.
Thousands of angry Gazans chanted "retaliation" and "we want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight."
said Jabari was traveling in a vehicle in Gaza City when the car
exploded. Crowds of people and security personnel rushed to the scene of
the strike, trying to put out the fire that had engulfed the car and
left it a charred shell.
The Israeli military released a black and
white video of the airstrike. The grainy video shows a sedan moving
slowly along a road before exploding in a powerful blast that sent a
large piece of the car flying into the air.
Hamas police cordoned
off the area around a hospital where at least one body from the strike
was taken. It was draped in a white sheet, with a burned leg poking out.
of black smoke wafted into Gaza City's skies following at least five
airstrikes. Ambulance sirens blared as people ran in panic in the
streets and militants fired angrily into the air.
Fearing a long war in Gaza, Palestinians rushed to buy fuel, bread and other food supplies.
are working under fire to protect our people and to back the
resistance," said Islam Shahwan, a Hamas interior ministry spokesman.
"We have a full emergency plan that we are adopting now."
The Israeli military said the assassination was just the beginning.
a couple of days on ongoing rocket attacks toward Israeli civilians the
(Israeli military) chief of staff has authorized to open an operation
against terror targets in the Gaza Strip," military spokeswoman Lt. Col.
Avital Leibovitch said.
She said Jabari had "a lot of bloods of his hands" and that the military chief "authorized different targets" as well.
say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the
complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and
Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future
attacks by removing their masterminds.
Critics say the killings
invite retaliation by militants and encourage them to try to assassinate
Israeli leaders. They complain that the strikes amount to extrajudicial
Dovish Israeli lawmaker Dov Hanin condemned the killing.
leaders is never the solution. In place of the leaders killed, other
will grow, and we will only get another cycle of fire and blood," he
During a wave of suicide bombings against Israel a decade
ago, the country employed the tactic to eliminate the upper echelon of
During that period, Israeli aircraft
assassinated the previous commander of Hamas' military wing, Salah
Shehadeh, the movement's founder and spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed
Yassin, his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and dozens of other Hamas
The practice set off a wave of criticism from
rights groups and foreign governments, particularly the strike that
killed Shehadeh - a one-ton bomb that killed 14 other people, most of
Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff who has supported targeted killings, welcomed the strike.
need to continue this policy, to find them in every place," he told
Israel's Army Radio. "Israel needs to determine the agenda, not Jabari."
Mofaz warned that Israelis should expect an escalation of violence in the coming days following the assassination.
was known in Israel as the man who accompanied Schalit when the
high-profile prisoner swap took place last October. Schalit, who was
captured in a cross-border raid from Gaza that killed two other
soldiers, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners,
including more than 300 convicted killers.
Jabari, nicknamed Abu
Mohammed, was born in 1960 in the eastern Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya.
In 2006, he became the acting commander of the military wing of Hamas
after his predecessor, Muhammad Deif, was seriously wounded in an
Jabari began as a member of Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, but switched his allegiance to Hamas after
serving 13 years in an Israeli prison.
He survived four previous
attempts by Israel to kill him. In one attempt in 2004 his eldest son,
his brother and three other relatives were killed.
He was said to
have led the bloody 2007 takeover of Gaza from Fatah forces, developing
Hamas's military arsenal and its networks in Iran, Sudan and Lebanon and
for his planning of the Schalit kidnapping. Hamas has ruled Gaza with
an iron grip since then, and repeated attempts to reconcile with Fatah
The assassination threatened to further damage
Israel's relations with Egypt, which is governed by Hamas' ideological
counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood.
On its official Facebook
page, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political
arm, called the assassination a "crime that requires a quick Arab and
international response to stem these massacres against the besieged
Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."
It accused Israel of trying to "drag the region toward instability."
and Egypt signed a peace accord in 1979. Relations, never warm, have
deteriorated since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted
in a popular uprising last year.