(TEL AVIV) — The Israeli military said Wednesday its Air Force targeted and killed the top military commander of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in an airstrike that was part of a larger military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Jabari, the chief of staff of the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades and de facto leader of the military wing of Hamas, was killed in what the Israeli military called a “surgical operation” Wednesday afternoon. Video from the scene showed the charred wreckage of Jabari’s vehicle, and Hamas sources later confirmed the leader’s death.
Israel accused Jabari of “executing terror attacks” from Gaza against Israel and said he was at the top of their most wanted list. He had previously escaped other assassination attempts.
“The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “This was a surgical operation in cooperation with the Israeli Security Agency, that was implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities.”
The killing comes after days of Israeli air strikes on Gaza and rocket fire into southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave. A ceasefire had been brokered by Egypt and peace seemed to return on Tuesday, but the assassination of Jabari raises the specter of renewed violence between Israel and Gaza.
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officials told ABC News that in Wednesday’s strikes, known as Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF also targeted Hamas’ Fajar rockets, longer range Iranian rockets that could reach Tel Aviv from Gaza. The Qatar-based news outlet al Jazeera showed video from the Gaza Strip reportedly of Israeli bombs being dropped on multiple targets.
“This blows a significant blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket launching capabilities and munitions warehouses owned by Hamas and other terror organizations,” the IDF said in a statement.
“The Gaza strip, has turned it into a frontal base for Iran firing rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The IDF will continue to target terrorist sites that are used to carry out terror attacks against Israeli citizens.”
Hamas and the militant group Islamic Jihad have announced they will retaliate forcefully against Israel, with Hamas’ Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades announcing Israel has “opened the gates of hell.”
Before his death Jabari played a key role in the negotiations surrounding the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held for almost six years by Hamas. Around 1,000 Hamas soldiers were released from Israeli prisons in exchanged for Shalit who was handed over to intermediary Egypt by Jabari himself last October.
This is the first time such a senior Hamas commander was killed since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and early 2009, during which around 1,400 Palestinians died along with 13 Israelis.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN