JERUSALEM An Israeli airstrike killed the commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza Wednesday and Israel pounded dozens of targets in Gaza in the most intense attack since an Israeli offensive four years ago.
The killing of Ahmad Jabari marked a resumption of Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian militant leaders, and the Israeli military said it was the beginning of a major offensive codenamed “Pillar of Defense.”
Palestinians called for harsh retaliation. The airstrikes came after a weekend exchange of Gaza rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes appeared to have abated. The Israeli offensive was likely to re-ignite the conflict.
A string of airstrikes around Gaza followed. 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 25 miles into Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his senior Security Cabinet after sundown Wednesday, officials said.
Hamas announced a state of emergency in Gaza. It evacuated all its security buildings and deployed its troops in Gaza away from their locations.
Jabari 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 in a string of deadly attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
In addition to Jabari, eight other people were killed in the strikes. Of the nine, three were confirmed as militants, two were children and the identity of others had yet to be determined, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Also, 30 people were wounded.