Israel hammers Gaza with airstrikes, warns of ground operation
Published Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:22PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2012 11:00PM EST
After hammering the Gaza Strip with 20 airstrikes Wednesday in retaliation for rocket attacks, killing the commander of Hamas’s military arm and nine others, the Israeli military has warned that its campaign could escalate into a ground operation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Wednesday that Israel, “is prepared to expand the operation.”
A message posted to Twitter by the Israeli Defence Forces using the handle @IDFSpokesperson was more blunt: "All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza."
Both Netanyahu and the military said the operation is a response to a revived campaign of rocket attacks from Gaza. The IDF tweeted that since the beginning of 2012, 768 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel.
The Israeli military essentially live-tweeted the air operation Wednesday, announcing the move with the following message: “The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.”
The subsequent tweet announced that, “The first target, hit minutes ago, was Ahmed Al-Jabari, head of the #Hamas military wing.”
Among the nine others killed in the air strikes were two children, according to Gaza’s health minister.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the air campaign had crippled Hamas’s long-range missile capabilities.
Jabari is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since early 2009, when the last major conflict between the two sides ended. Israel considered Al-Jabari to be responsible for a number of fatal attacks, as well as the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006. Schalit was freed last October in a swap of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Wednesday’s operation was a ramped up effort after the weekend, when rockets from Gaza were met with airstrikes from Israel. Those incidents left seven Palestinians dead and a number of Israelis wounded.
In its series of tweets Wednesday, the IDF said the operation’s two main goals were “to protect Israeli civilians and to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in the #Gaza Strip.”
Subsequent tweets included images identifying rocket-launch sites in Gaza, and word that Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system had intercepted 25 rockets fired from Gaza.
Another tweet included this warning: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”
Later tweets about the operation included the hashtag @PillarOfDefense.
The airstrikes sent panicked residents into the streets of Gaza, where Health Minister Dr. Mufeed Mkhallalati said that among the 10 killed were three civilians, including an 11-month-old and a six-year-old. Forty-five people were wounded, with 10 in critical condition, Mkhallati said.
Hamas, which governs Gaza, announced a state of emergency there and evacuated all security buildings. Residents stocked up on food and fuel.
"The battle between us and the occupation is open and it will end only with the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem," a Hamas official said outside the hospital where Jabari’s body was taken.
Thousands of Gaza residents chanted "Retaliation" and "We want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight."
The Canadian government issued a statement Wednesday in support of Israel.
“We fundamentally believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens from terrorist threats,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.
“Canada condemns the terrorist group Hamas and stands with Israel as it deals with regional threats to peace and security.”
While Israeli military leaders hailed Jabari’s death, some were less enthused by the operation.
"Assassinating leaders is never the solution. In place of the leaders killed, other will grow, and we will only get another cycle of fire and blood," said dovish Israeli lawmaker Dov Hanin.
But opposition leader Shaul Mofaz expressed his support for the operation on Israel’s Army Radio.
"We need to continue this policy, to find them in every place," he said. "Israel needs to determine the agenda, not Jabari."
Jabari became acting commander of Hamas’s military wing in 2006, after his predecessor, Muhammad Deif, was wounded in an Israeli attack. The next year, reports say he led a bloody coup against Fatah to gain control of Gaza.
Jabari was once a member of the Fatah party, but switched to Hamas after spending 13 years in an Israeli prison.
In the wake of Wednesday’s operation, Israeli officials warned of increased violence in the southern part of the country, where school was cancelled for Thursday.
With files from The Associated Press