Israeli airstrikes kill Hamas’s top military commander

Source: Wall Street Journal

TEL AVIV— Israeli airstrikes killed Hamas’s top military commander, Israel and Hamas confirmed, leaving at least six others dead in the largest offensive against the Palestinian Islamic militant group in four years.

Israel’s military also launched dozens of attacks on other Hamas commanders and weapons storage sites in the Gaza Strip, it said, adding that it had significantly imparied Hamas’s missible capabilities. Israel’s army said it was prepared to order ground troops into Gaza if needed.

“All options that allow us to cause seriously damage to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are on the table,” said Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Moredechai.

The operation dramatically escalated several days of hostilities, during which Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets and mortars at southern Israel. The attack prompted Egypt’s newly elected Muslim Brotherhood government to recall its ambassador to Israel, and threatens to impact the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations’ statehood recognition later this month.

Israeli airstrikes killed Hamas’s top military commander and targeted numerous militant sites in the Gaza Strip, leaving at least six others dead in the largest offensive against the Palestinians in four years. Josh Mitnick has details on The News Hub.

A video released by the Israeli Defense Force on Wednesday shows an air strike on Hamas in Gaza City that it says killed Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza. Israeli and Hamas officials confirmed Mr. Jabari was killed in the attack by the Israel Air Force.

The strike against Ahmed Jabari, considered the chief of staff of Hamas’s Izz a Din el Qassam brigades, came as he and an assistant were driving in the heart of Gaza City.

The IDF released what it said was an aerial video of the attack, which depicted a vehicle driving through a narrow street followed by a powerful explosion. The attack killed both men and left their Kia sedan a mangled wreck.

Mr. Jabari, the highest ranking Hamas figure to be assassinated by Israel in eight years, is accused by Israel of ordering numerous terrorist attacks and overseeing the kidnapping and five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The offensive comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starts a reelection campaign ahead of a Jan. 22 parliamentary vote. The recent spate of rocket attacks had kicked up criticism in Israel that Gaza militants were no longer deterred by Israel.

“We won’t accept a situation in which Israeli civilians are threatened by the terror of rocket fire. No country would agree to this,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “If necessary, the IDF is prepared to widen the operation.”

Israel’s government has also been involved in an international diplomatic offensive against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has requested that the U.N. General Assembly upgrade the Palestinians non-member observer status.

Just hours before the strikes in Gaza, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dubbed Mr. Abbas’s request for a vote “diplomatic terror.” He released a position paper calling to topple Mr. Abbas and dismantle the Palestinian Authority, a move that would effectively undo the 19-year-old Oslo Accords. Analysts speculated that the Gaza attacks will make it less likely that Mr. Abbas will bow to such pressure.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed Mr. Jabari’s death and warned that Israel would pay a “heavy price” for the attacks. The Qassem Brigade website said the Israel offensive would “open the gates of hell.” Palestinian authorities said two young children were killed in Wednesday’s attacks, an account that couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

In the wake of the strikes, Palestinian rocket-launch squads fired at southern Israeli cities, with at least one missile landing in Beersheva, according to Israel television reports. About a dozen incoming rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missle-defense system, Israel’s army said.

The army, which dubbed Wednesday’s operation “Pillar of Defense,” said that the series of attacks that followed the assassination were aimed at taking out long-range Fajr missiles capable of reaching beyond 25 miles, a distance that approaches the suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Israeli authorities suggested that the operation would last at least several days and said residents near Gaza would be asked to be patient and keep near bomb shelters. Defense Minister Ehud Barak put all Israeli cities and towns within a 25 mile radius around Gaza on a state of heightened alert.

Cairo’s recall of its ambassador is the first such instance since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, and reflects pressure on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to take a harder line toward Israel than did his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned the attack. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called on Mr. Morsi to “review” the peace treaty with Israel. Hamas leaders called on Egypt to punish Israel, Israel Television reported.

Israeli leaders said the escalation was aimed at exacting a high price from the Islamic militants, in order to deter future rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities. The relative quiet that has prevailed in the border region since Israel’s invasion of Gaza ended in January 2009 has eroded over the past year.

The assassination of Mr. Jabari is a message to “the terrorist chiefs that they are next in line, and they could get hurt,” Israeli Vice Premier Sylvan Shalom said in an interview with Israel Radio.

Mr. Jabari is the most senior Hamas figure to be assassinated by Israel since April 2004, at the time of the Palestinian uprising against Israel.