Hamas says that it is now in a state of “open war” indefinitely with Israel after the killing of the Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari by an Israeli airstrike.
The assassination has “opened the gates of hell,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, were quoted by AFP as saying.
“The occupation committed a dangerous crime and crossed all the red lines, which is considered a declaration of war,” he said in a statement. Hamas vowed to “continue the path of resistance.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an immediate Arab League meeting in response to Wednesday’s attack.
Mosques across Gaza were packed with mourners vowing revenge. The streets outside the hospital where Jabari’s body was taken were filled with thousands of angry Palestinians chanting “retaliation” and “We want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight.” Among the mourners outside the Shifa hospital in Gaza City were armed men firing into the air.
Gaza’s Health Minister Dr. Mufeed Mkhallalati said a total of 10 people were killed, including Jabari. Fourty five people are reported injured, 10 of them are in critical condition. An 11-month-old and a 6-year-old girl were among the dead.
Six rockets were fired from Gaza toward Beersheba following the airstrike on Wednesday evening, Israel’s Army Radio reported. One rocket hit a shopping center in the city, while there were other media reports that a vehicle was struck in the attack. No casualties were reported.
The Israeli Press Office said“The Iron Dome missile defense system has thus far intercepted 15 rockets fired at Israel.”
Hamas said no tactic would be left off of the table following the strike.
“The resistance’s options are now open and they include suicide attacks and quality attacks in Israel cities,” Ynet cites top Hammas commander Ismail al-Ashkar as saying.
Hamas spokesman Khalil Al Haya vowed its Zionist enemy would “pay a price for this cowardly assassination.”
“The assassination of this great leader Amhed Al-Jaabary clearly confirms that we are still in the heart of resistance with the Israeli enemy; the Zionist enemy knows nothing but the language of killing and blood; our battle with the enemy is an open battle; God willing, this battle will end with Palestine and Jerusalem liberated. They should wait for our action, not words,” RT Arabic cites him as saying.
Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said the assassination will not “break the will of our people, nor weaken our resistance,” Al-Rishq wrote on his Facebook page, Al Ahram reported.
He added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is using the “war crime” to appear tough on national security as part of his reelection bid, though his plan could backfire.
Israel will hold a general election on January 22. Residents in southern Israel have been severely critical of his conservative government’s handling of rocket strikes in recent weeks. On Wednesday night Netanyahu said that no country in the world would accept a situation in which rockets were being fired at its citizens, and neither would Israel.
Fatah’s former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat disagreed with the Israeli PM’s justification for the operation, saying “this exposes that Israel has an agenda for war but not for peace” on Twitter.
“We hold Israel responsible for the consequences that this new act of aggression would bring to the region,” he continued.
The US State department released a statment saying it stands behind Israel’s right to “self-defense”, but “we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.”
Egypt’s foreign ministry released a statement calling on Israel to stop its strikes on Gaza Strip immediately.
The Muslim Brotherhood controlled government says it “will not allow the Palestinians to be subjected to Israeli aggression,” the Jerusalem Post cites him as saying.
Egypt recalled its ambassador in Tel-Aviv back to Cairo in response to the start of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. Cairo has also requested an emergency meeting before the United Nations Security Council.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) killed Jabari in an airstrike on his car in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Israel’s TV Channel 2 says his son also died in the missile attack. There are also reports that Raed al-Atar, the commander of Hamas’s southern division, was also killed.
The attack comes as the first step in the expanding Israeli operation which could see IDF troops on the ground in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Air Force strikes reportedly hit at least 20 rocket-launching pads belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, “seriously damaging their long-range missile capabilities,” an Israeli military spokesman said. IDF tank fire also struck targets in Gaza. The IDF said it was willing to initiate a ground operation in Gaza to eliminate any further sources of rocket fire.
“All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF (army) is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza,” the IDF said on its official Twitter account.
Jabari, who was deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing, is the most senior Hamas official to be assassinated since Israel’s sweeping 2008 military operation in Gaza which resulted in the death of some 1,800 Palestinians. In reponse to the targeted assassination, the IDF characterized Jabari as a “man with a lot of blood on his hands.”
In the run up to the operation on Wednesday, seven Palestinians had been killed in retaliatory Israel strikes to missile strikes originating in Gaza.