Hamas military chief assassinated in Gaza strike




 

Hamas military chief assassinated in Gaza strike

The Israeli military has launched a major offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing the military commander of Hamas in an air strike and threatening a ground invasion.

The targeted strike against Ahmed al-Jabari drew a furious reaction from Hamas, which said the Jewish state had opened "the gates of hell".

Following the strike that killed Jabari and his bodyguard in Gaza City, Israel pounded the strip with more than 20 air strikes, killing another 10 people, two of them children, and wounding at least 45, Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Israel said the air strikes were targeting Hamas militants, rocket sites and weapons dumps in a bid to stop days of Hamas rocket attacks on towns in southern Israel.

And it said it was ready to launch a ground attack on Gaza if necessary, warning that more strikes would follow in an operation it has dubbed 'Pillar of Defence'.

Jabari's death came after Israel and Hamas agreed to an informal truce following days of strike and counter-strikes which saw Israel kill seven Palestinians while militants fired more than 120 rockets over the border, injuring eight.

Israel maintained it would still hit those responsible for rocket fire and said it had targeted Jabari because of his involvement in attacks against Israelis.

Man carries woman wounded in Israeli airstrike in Gaza Photo: A man carries a wounded Palestinian woman into a hospital after Israeli air strikes in Gaza City. (Reuters: Saleh Salem)

Jabari's death sparked furious protests in Gaza City, with hundreds of members of Hamas and its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, chanting for revenge in and around Shifa hospital where his body was taken.

As Gaza hospitals and medical centres went on high alert, bracing for more strikes, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet and held a press conference with defence minister Ehud Barak.

"Today we sent a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organisations," Mr Netanyahu said during a televised address several hours after the initial strike.

"If it becomes necessary, we are prepared to expand the operation. We will not tolerate a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by rocket fire."

The Israeli army said it had targeted "a significant number of long-range rocket sites".

"All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF [Israel Defence Force] is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza," the military said on its official Twitter account.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the level of alert in southern Israel had been raised "in anticipation of potential retaliatory attacks".

ABC Middle East correspondent Matt Brown is in Ashkelon, about 10 kilometres north of the Gaza Strip.

He says Israel's Iron Dome missile defence batteries has intercepted at least 13 rockets fired from Gaza and rockets have fallen as far as the city of Be'er Sheva, about 40km from Gaza.

"People seven kilometres away from Gaza have been told not to go to work tomorrow and schools in a 40km radius have been cancelled," he said. "We've also got reserves from Israel's home front command being called up. They do things like check on civilian access to bomb shelters in the area."

He says Israeli forces are being readied for a ground offensive, and there are reports Israeli ships have been positioned off Gaza.

He says there is also speculation about the timing of the strikes, which come ahead of Israeli elections scheduled for late January.

It plays out politically in a number of ways. There are internal elections under way in Hamas.

Of course [they are] not transparent but it will be interesting to see what this does to that process.

There are Israeli elections on in late January.

Now, I've heard Israeli politicians from the far left even on Israeli radio tonight being asked, 'Do you think this is all about the play up for the elections?'

And they say it's not.

But there are political insiders here, the residents of southern Israel, who do deal with these rockets regularly, demanding more be done and a greater deterrent established in the Gaza Strip.

At the moment you may say there is no greater deterrent than killing the leader of the most powerful and entrenched militant group in Gaza.

In neighbouring Egypt, foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr condemned the violence and called for an "immediate stop" to attacks on Gaza, warning against an "escalation and its possible negative effects on regional stability."

Britain also called for restraint while Washington said it was watching developments in Gaza "closely".

A White House statement said US president Barack Obama called Mr Netanyahu to urge him to "make every effort to avoid civilian casualties".

"The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the statement said.

Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said the air strikes were just the start of an operation targeting Gaza militants, and had been authorised by chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.

"After the rocket fire of recent days, the chief of staff has decided to authorise the targeting of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip," she said.

"This is the beginning. This man, Ahmed al-Jabari, has a lot of blood of Israeli people on his hands. Not him alone unfortunately, there are many other terrorists inside Gaza. And we will do whatever we need and continue as long as we need."

Hamas's Qassam Brigades issued a furious communiqué in response to Jabari's death, saying Israel had "opened the gates of hell on itself".

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."

Israel Ziv, former head of the army's Gaza division, said the strike was "a very clear message to Hamas."

"This is the beginning of a larger operation that will go on for the next few days," he said.

"There will surely be an escalation."

Israel's last major operation in Gaza began at the end of December 2008, just six weeks shy of general elections, when troops embarked on a 22-day campaign which led to the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel advice for Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

DFAT says Australians should not travel to Gaza and should reconsider travelling to Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah because of the unstable security situation.

UN Security Council holds emergency session on Israel raids

The U.N. Security Council met in a closed emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss Israeli strikes against the Gaza Strip as Israel threatened a wider offensive in the Palestinian enclave to stem rocket salvoes by Hamas militants.

Diplomats said U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman was briefing the 15-nation council. Israeli and Palestinians envoys will also have a chance to speak.

Separately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press office said in two separate statements that he spoke on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt.

“(Ban) expressed his concern (to Netanyahu) about the deteriorating situation in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which includes an alarming escalation of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the targeted killing by Israel of a Hamas military operative in Gaza,” the U.N. said.

Ban also voiced his expectation that “Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed.”

He also discussed with Mursi “the need to prevent any further deterioration,” the United Nations said in a second statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke with Netanyahu and Mursi and reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza, the White House said.

“The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate,” the White House statement said.

Israel launched a new major offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing Hamas’ military commander in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group said would “open the gates of hell.

‘MALICIOUS ONSLAUGHT’

The emergency Security Council meeting came at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinians.

“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 Authority’s U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, told the Security Council.

He urged the council to act. “A direct firm message must be sent to Israel to cease immediately its military campaign against the Palestinian people and to abide … by its obligations under international law,” Mansour said, according to a text of his statement distributed to reporters.

“The Israeli occupying forces are now mobilizing on the ground as we speak,” Mansour said. “Fear and panic are spreading among the Palestinian civilian population.”

The militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, controls Gaza.

Speaking to reporters, Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor urged the international community to condemn “indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli citizens – children, women.” He was referring to escalating Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.

A group of Arab ambassadors appeared before reporters ahead of the council meeting. Speaking on their behalf, Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman urged the council to condemn Israel’s “barbaric heinous attack.”

In a letter to Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the 15-nation council this month, Mansour said the council should also call for an to “extrajudicial killing.”

Prosor described the Hamas military commander killed by Israel, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, as a “mass murderer” who had been planning fresh attacks against Israeli citizens.

It was unclear what a Security Council meeting would achieve since the 15-nation body is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which envoys say is due to the U.S. determination to protect Israeli.

A new Gaza war has loomed for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes have grown more intense and frequent.

Mansour said earlier the Israeli action was intended to draw attention away from the Palestinians’ plan to seek an upgrade of its observer status at the United Nations from that of an “entity” to a “non-member state,” implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Israel and the United States have made clear they would oppose the Palestinian upgrade, which would give it the right to join international bodies like the International Criminal Court, where it could file legal complaints against Israel.

U.N. diplomats said a vote on the Palestinian request was tentatively scheduled for November 29. A senior Western diplomat said the Palestinians would easily secure 120 to 130 votes out of the 193-nation General Assembly, which would ensure the success of their upgraded status at the United Nations.


 














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