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Israeli airstrike kills Hamas militant chief

By Ibrahim Barzak

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14 2012 9:53 a.m. MST

People gather around a wreckage of the car in which was killed Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012.

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel killed the commander of the Hamas military wing in one of some 20 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip Wednesday, the heaviest barrage on the Palestinian territory in four years in retaliation for renewed rocket fire on southern Israel.

Gaza's health minister said 10 people were killed - two of them young children - while the Israeli military said its attack was just the beginning of a major offensive and warned it could escalate with a ground attack.

Palestinian militants responded to the attack with renewed rocket fire. The military said its "Iron Dome" defense system intercepted 13 rockets from Gaza. Israeli media said the rockets were shot down over the city of Beersheba.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel could not tolerate continued rocket attacks against its citizens said the military was prepared to broaden its operation against Hamas targets in Gaza.

"If there will be a need, the military is prepared to expand the operation. We will continue to do everything to protect our citizens," he said.

The military said earlier the operation could escalate with a ground attack.

"All options are on the table. If necessary, the (Israeli military) is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza," it said.

The killing of Ahmad Jabari marked a dramatic resumption of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militant leaders. He was the most senior Hamas official to be killed since the last war in Gaza ended in early 2009. He has long topped Israel's most-wanted list, blamed for a string of deadly attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.

The offensive followed a weekend exchange of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes. Seven Palestinians were killed and several Israelis were wounded.

The military said its aircraft targeted more than 20 facilities that served as storage or launching sites for rockets. Among the weapons destroyed were rockets that could hit as far as 40 kilometers (25 miles) into Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the operation in Gaza was far from over and that airstrikes had already inflicted heavy damage, taking out most of Hamas' long-range missile capabilities

Plumes of black smoke wafted into Gaza City's skies following at least five airstrikes there. Sirens blared as people ran in panic in the streets and militants fired angrily into the air. Hamas police cordoned off the area around a hospital where at least one body from the strike was taken. It was draped in a white sheet, with a burnt leg poking out.

Gaza Health Minister Dr. Mufeed Mkhallalati said a total of 10 people were killed, including Jabari, and 45 wounded, 10 of them in critical condition. Among the dead were three civilians, including an 11-month-old and a 6-year-old.

Palestinians called for harsh retaliation. Hamas, which rules Gaza, announced a state of emergency in the territory. It evacuated all its security buildings.

Outside the hospital where Jabari's body was taken, Hamas official Khalil al-Haya eulogized the commander and threatened Israel.

"The battle between us and the occupation is open and it will end only with the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem," he said.

Thousands of angry Gazans chanted "Retaliation" and "We want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight." Otherwise, the streets of Gaza were empty as residents feared further attacks, the sounds of Israeli aircraft hovering overhead.

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