Over 100 rockets were fired at Israel since the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday.
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Following four days of escalation on the Israel-Gaza border, Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari in an airstrike, and targeting weapons warehouses and long-range rocket launchers.
The Jerusalem official said that until now, the operation has already achieved several goals, including severe damage to Hamas' long-range Fajr missiles, which can reach Tel Aviv and the Gush Dan area.
Jabari, 52, the head of Hamas' military wing, was the man behind the abduction of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. With the targeting of Jabari, Israel renewed its policy of targeted assassinations. More than 90 rockets hit Israel over the course of the day on Wednesday, 28 Israelis suffered from shock and two were lightly injured. The Iron Dome System intercepted 27 rockets and Ashdod and Be'er Sheva suffered property damage.
The UN Security Council said later Wednesday that it would hold a closed emergency meeting that day to discuss the escalation in Gaza. The French UN mission announced on its Twitter feed that the meeting would be a "closed private debate" beginning at 9:00 P.M. EST (0200 GMT Thursday). Council diplomats said Israeli and Palestinian envoys would speak at the meeting.
At a joint press conference with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday night at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Hamas chose to escalate its attacks in recent days. We will not accept the threat of rocket fire against our citizens," adding that airstrikes carried out by the Israel Air Force Wednesday "seriously damaged Hamas's ability to fire long-range missiles to the center of Israel," including to Tel Aviv. "Hamas is targeting our citizens on purpose while hiding behind Palestinian civilians," Netanyahu said, adding, "We do everything not to harm civilians."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounded a slightly more conciliatory note than Netanyahu however, saying, "We don't want escalation, but Hamas's provocations in the last weeks forced us to act decisively." He said the main goals of the Gaza operation, which the IDF has dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, were to destroy the rocket infrastructure of the terror organizations in Gaza and to establish deterrence. "We managed to destroy most of the long-range Fajr rockets and other Hamas infrastructure," Barak said at the press conference.
Wednesday night, the security cabinet authorized the IDF to draft reserve soldiers in order to expand the Gaza operation if necessary. The forum of senior cabinet ministers also authorized the prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister to decide on expanding the operation if needed, pending theapproval of the security cabinet.
Even in their first statements to the media, during a security cabinet meeting Wednesday night, Netanyahu and Barak signaled that some of the goals of the operation had already been achieved as far as they were concerned.
The IDF said in a statement that Jabari was targeted because he "served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the State of Israel in the past number of years." The statement said the purpose of the attack was to "severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership as well as its terrorist infrastructure."
The IDF hit more than 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including rocket warehouses and rocket-launching facilities. Palestinians say eight people in the Gaza Strip were killed, including Jabari,and more than 30 were injured in Israeli strikes Wednesday.
"In a wide-scale attack, the IDF struck the long-range missile capabilities (capable of reaching almost 40 miles) of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, severely damaging the underground launch sites and the ammunition warehouses in the Gaza Strip," the IDF Spokesman said in a statement. "The targets were pinpointed by Israeli military intelligence information. The Gaza Strip has become a front base for Iran. The IDF will continue to attack targets that are used for carrying out terror attacks against the State of Israel."
Jabari was the most senior Hamas official to be killed by Israel since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, four years ago. He has long topped Israel's most-wanted list. Jabari, a relative of Hamas cofounder Abdel Aziz Rantisi, was responsible for the attack on Kerem Shalom in which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and two other soldiers killed. Jabari was in charge of negotiations during Shalit's five years in captivity.
In concert with the military operation in the Strip, Israel carried out a series of diplomatic and public-relations measures aimed at explaining the reasons and the goals of the operation to the international community, while also protecting the tense relationship between Jerusalem and Cairo. The Foreign Ministry went into semi-emergency mode, cancelling all vacations for its Jerusalem staffers.
President Shimon Peres spoke on the phone with U.S. President Barack Obama late Wednesday afternoon and updated him on the IDF operation in Gaza. “Israel does not want an escalation, but for the last five days we were under nonstop bombardment, mothers and children cannot sleep in peace at night,” Peres told Obama. “There is a limit to what Israel can withstand. Ahmed Jabari was behind many terror activities.”
Late Wednesday night, the U.S. State Department said in a statement that the United States strongly condemns the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza and regrets the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians. “We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” the statement said. “Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause.”
In a security message, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv advises American citizens in Israel to pay close attention to news reports and to follow civil defense guidance provided by the Home Front Command.
A source in the Foreign Ministry said that Israeli ambassadors throughout the world were instructed to appeal to the foreign ministries, the leaders and the various media outlets in their respective countries. They were asked to emphasize that Israel took action after a period of great restraint and after after appealing repeatedly to the international community to intervene to stop the rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. “Just last week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, submitted three letters of complaint to the Security Council and to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,” the Foreign Ministry source said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday called for an urgent Arab League meeting on Israel’s strikes on Gaza, Egypt’s news agency MENA said, quoting a Palestinian official in Egypt. “Barakat al-Fara, the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo and the Palestinian representative in the Arab League, announced that based on instructions from President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian state had asked for an urgent meeting of the Arab League to discuss the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip,” MENA said.
Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, tweeted the following on the Twitter online social network: “@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”
At a meeting in Be’er Sheva on Tuesday, Netanyahu told mayors of southern Israeli cities under rocket attack that it was his responsibility to choose the right time to “exact the heaviest price” for the continual rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, but he stated that Israel was not expected to undertake significant military action in Gaza at this stage or to renew assassinations of Gaza militants.