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Israeli Airstrike Kills Hamas Military Chief

The conflict between Israel and Hamas may be about to enter a more dangerous phase:

GAZA — The Israeli military carried out multiple airstrikes in Gaza on Wednesday and blew up a car carrying the commander of the Hamas military wing, making him the most senior official of the group to be killed by the Israelis since their invasion of Gaza four years ago. Hamas announced that Israel would “pay a high price.”

The death of the commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, 52, who was on Israel’s most-wanted list of Palestinian militants, was confirmed by Hamas and Israeli officials. The Israeli military said it had ordered the airstrikes as part of a response to days of rocket fire launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

Mr. Jabari’s death signaled a further escalation in the renewed hostility between Israel and Hamas, the militant organization regarded by Israel as a terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction. The Israeli attacks could also further complicate Israel’s fragile relations with Egypt, where the new government has established closer ties with Hamas and had been acting as a mediator to restore calm between Israel and Gaza-based militant groups.

Hamas reacted furiously, saying in a statement that it considered the Israeli attacks to be the basis for a “declaration of war” against Israel. A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, said the Israelis had “committed a dangerous crime and broke all redlines,” and that “the Israeli occupation will regret and pay a high price.”

Military officials in Israel, which announced responsibility for the death of Mr. Jabari, later said in a statement that their forces had carried out additional airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as “a significant number of long-range rocket sites” owned by Hamas that had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a “significant blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities.”

Yisrael Katz, a minister from Israel’s governing Likud Party, issued a statement saying that the operation had sent a message to the Hamas political leaders in Gaza “that the head of the snake must be smashed. Israel will continue to kill and target anyone who is involved in the rocket attacks.”Hamas and medical officials in Gaza said both Mr. Jabari and a companion were killed by the airstrike on his car in Gaza City. Israeli news media said the companion was Mr. Jabari’s son, but there was no immediate confirmation.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he “served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years.”

The statement said the purpose of the attack was to “severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership as well as its terrorist infrastructure.”

There are now reports of Israeli military units mobilizing as if preparing for further actions, and the rhetoric coming out of Hamas is about what you’d expect at a time like this. Suffice it to say that  it looks like we’re headed for another round of conflict in Gaza. What will be interesting to see is whether the militants that  have taken up residence in the Sinai since the Egyptian revolution will get involved in this.

Update: In case you were wondering how serious the Israelis are, this tweet from their official Twitter account will answer that question:

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook