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Gaza City - Israel killed a top Hamas military commander in a targeted strike in Gaza on Wednesday, prompting outrage from militants who said the Jewish state had opened “the gates of hell”.
Israel confirmed it had targeted Ahmed Jaabari in an airstrike on a car in Gaza City, warning it was only the start of an operation to target militant groups, launched as the state prepares for general elections in January.
It also warned it was prepared to launch a ground operation “if necessary”.
Following the strike that killed Jaabari and his bodyguard, Israel pounded the strip with more than 20 others, killing another five people, two of them children, and wounding at least 45, Hamas Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
The airstrikes capped five days of rising tension in and around Gaza, which saw Israel kill seven Palestinians and militants firing more than 120 rockets over the border, injuring eight.
Jaabari’s death sparked furious protests in Gaza City, with hundreds of Hamas members and its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, chanting for revenge in and around the hospital where Jaabari’s body was taken.
The Qassam Brigades issued a furious communiqué, 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.
Israel Ziv, former head of the army’s Gaza division, told reporters: “This is the beginning of a larger operation that will go on for the next few days.”
As Gaza hospitals and medical centres went on high alert, bracing for more strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet.
The Israeli army said it had targeted “a significant number of long-range rocket sites” and was prepared to launch a ground operation if necessary to stamp out rocket fire.
“All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF [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” and that at least seven rockets had hit Israel immediately after the Jaabari strike.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas slammed the Gaza strikes and demanded an immediate end to the bloodshed.
“Abbas asked the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, to call an emergency meeting… to discuss the dangerous Israel escalation and brutal aggression on our people in the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
Abbas is in Switzerland meeting officials ahead of a bid to seek enhanced membership at the UN later this month.
Egyptian 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”.- Sapa-AFP