Tel Aviv — Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip stretched into another day as Hamas and other militant groups retaliated, the latest escalation of violence between the two sides that followed Israel’s assassination Wednesday of Hamas’ top military commander.
At least three Israelis were killed in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi by rocket fire this morning. These are the first Israeli deaths in this escalation.
Israel’s Air Force has hit more than 150 targets across Gaza since the operation, dubbed “Pillar of Defense,” began Wednesday evening.
The first strike was on Ahmed Jabari, the chief of staff of the military wing of Hamas, the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades. It was followed by a wave of airstrikes on other militants, buildings and installations, notably launching sites and rockets, which included the long-range Fajar rockets that could reach Tel Aviv.
Hamas sources said a dozen Palestinians have been killed, including at least two children.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have retaliated with almost 200 rockets fired into southern Israel, according to Israel’s military.
“We are still at the beginning of the event, not at the end, and we expect some complicated tests ahead,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a nationally televised address Monday night, standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to The Associated Press, Israel already has started moving its troops toward Gaza and has called up reservists in anticipation of a ground operation. Military officials, however, had not decided whether to enter Gaza, the AP reported.
Israeli officials say the operation is in response to more than 800 rockets that have landed in Israel this year. Barak laid out the four goals of “Pillar of Defense”: to strengthen deterrence, damage the rocket launching network, hit Hamas and its allies and to minimize the damage in Israel.
“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted Monday night.
Hamas warned that Israel will pay a heavy price for Jabari’s assassination, its armed wing saying Israel had “opened the gates of hell.”
Thousands gathered for Jabari’s funeral Tuesday morning as rockets continued to be fired into Israel. Some were intercepted by Israel’s oft-touted Iron Dome anti-missile shield.
Israel Defense Forces released black and white aerial video of the strike on Jabari’s car, as well as on Hamas’ Iranian-made Fajar rockets, with a range of around 50 miles.
“Once again the international community is witness to Israel’s malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population,” the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said.
In past flare-ups, Egypt has brokered fragile ceasefires, but that appeared unlikely Tuesday morning. Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Hamas announced this morning that Jabari’s deputy, Marwan Issa, would take Jabari’s place as de facto commander.