Barney Henderson, and Chris Irvine
14 Nov 2012
Hamas has said that Israeli air strike in Gaza which killed Ahmed Jabari, the head of its military wing, "has opened the gates of hell".
Jabari, who is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since an Israeli invasion of Gaza four years ago, was killed in an air strike on a vehicle, in a dramatic resumption of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militant leaders.
Jabari has long topped Israel's most-wanted list, the Associated Press reported, and was blamed for in a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
His son was also reportedly killed in the targeted air strike, according to Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, talking to Al Jazeera in Doha.
"We will respond [to the assassination], this I have to say clearly," he said.
"The Israelis are working to target the local leaders and political leaders in Gaza. We are expecting acts and reactions from the Palestinians."
The network also spoke to Avital Leibovitch, an IDF spokesman, who confirmed Jabari was targeted.
"The first target we targeted was Ahmad Jabari. A short time ago we completed another phase in the operation which included 20 different targets of rocket launcher pads," Leibovitch said.
"Israel is exercising its right to protect itself, and Jabari has a lot of Israeli blood on his hands."
At least six Gazans were killed in more than 20 Israeli air strikes, according to Hamas.
Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence service confirmed it had carried out the attack, saying it had killed Jabari because of his 'decade-long terrorist activity'
Israeli officials had said in recent days that they were considering assassinating top Hamas officials following a wave of heavy rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army said that the military was prepared for a ground operation in Gaza, with a spokesman saying: "All options are on the table."
Another Israeli military spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, said the aerial assault on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday could draw cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks and stretch into days of fighting.
"The days we face in the south will, in my estimation, prove protracted," he told Channel 2 TV. "The homefront must brace itself resiliently."
Asked if Israel might send ground forces into Gaza, Mordechai said: "There are preparations, and if we are required to, the option of a entry by ground is available."
After the hit on Jabari, Israeli forces had hit "close to 20 targets" used for launching rockets, especially those with a range of 25 miles or longer, saying the strikes had caused "significant damages" to Hamas and Islamic Jihad's infrastructure.
As Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza, a military source warned that many of Gaza's militant arms dumps were within located within residential areas.
"A significant number of munitions depots are within civilian, residential buildings," he told AFP.
The strike prompted an outpouring of grief and anger, with armed men firing weapons into the air outside Shifa hospital in Gaza City, and mosques throughout the city calling prayers to mourn the commander's death.
The Qassam Brigades issued a furious communique in response to Jaabari's death, saying Israel had "opened the gates of hell on itself."
And Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for the political wing of the ruling Islamist movement said it was tantamount to a "declaration of war."
"The occupation committed a dangerous crime and crossed all the red lines, which is considered a declaration of war," he said in a statement.
"The occupation will pay dearly for this and we will make it regret the moment they thought about it."
Meanwhile, witnesses reported seeing dozens of Israeli tanks massed along the border east of Gaza City.
Egypt's foreign ministry condemned the strikes while the UK Foreign Office urged restraint from both sides.
Egytian state television later said the country had withdrawn its ambassador from Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an urgent Arab League meeting, according to Egyptian news agency MENA.
"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 offense on Gaza strip," MENA said.
Earlier in the day, an Israeli official said they may try to topple Abbas if he carries out a plan to ask the United Nations this month to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority.
The upgrade would give the Palestinians a place in the world body akin to that of the Vatican – short of full membership as a sovereign state but as close as they can get without the full recognition that Israel says can only come from a peace treaty.
A draft document from the office of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, seen by Reuters, said Israel must confront this challenge by means that could include "toppling (Abbas) and dismantling the Palestinian Authority".
Lieberman said in a speech at the settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank that if the Palestinian upgrade request was accepted by the UN General Assembly – as is widely predicted – it could force Israel to punish the Palestinians.
"If the ... proposal is adopted at the United Nations General Assembly, as far as we are concerned this would be a complete breaking of the rules and it will elicit an extreme response from us," Lieberman said on Wednesday.
Newspaper reports say Israel instructed its ambassadors to warn it may revoke all or part of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which set up the Palestinian Authority under an interim peace agreement.