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Israel Launches Airstrikes on Gaza City, Killing Hamas Military Chief

November 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There are new fears tonight of a widening conflict between Israel and Hamas, after a major escalation today that left at least 10 Palestinians dead.

Ray Suarez reports.

RAY SUAREZ: It began with a precision airstrike that left twisted metal and flaming debris on the streets of GazaCity, the target, Ahmed Jabari, head of the military wing of the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. He was at the top of Israel’s most wanted list and the most senior Hamas official killed since Israel’s last war in Gaza in 2009.

The Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, posted a video of the strike on YouTube and said it was the opening round of a larger campaign dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense.

LT. COL. AVITAL LEIBOVICH, Israeli Defense Forces: The goal of the operation is to defend Israeli people and also target and cripple those terror organizations responsible for the ongoing rocket fire, namely Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others.

RAY SUAREZ: In short order, smoke rose across the GazaCity skyline from other airstrikes, and fires burned into the night as the attacks continued.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel might expand the operation, possibly including a ground offensive. In turn, Hamas proclaimed a state of emergency and called for retaliation.

KHALIL AL-HAYA, Hamas official (through translator): Ahmed al-Jabari has long worked and waited for this day. Today, he is getting his victory as a martyr. Our Zionist enemy will, God willing, pay a price for this cowardly assassination.

RAY SUAREZ: Hamas militants answered with rocket fire, but the Israelis said their Iron Dome defense system intercepted 13 incoming rockets over Southern Israel.

All of this followed mounting tensions in recent days. On Saturday, another Palestinian militant group claimed responsibility for this attack on an Israeli Army jeep that wounded four soldiers. The Israelis and Hamas had exchanged other blows as well, and earlier this week, neither side showed any sign of stepping back.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas (through translator): The Islamist and nationalist parties have the right to resist the Zionist occupation and to confront its aggression by all available means.

EHUD BARAK, Israeli defense minister (through translator): The matter has definitely not ended. And we will decide how and when to act at the time when there will be a need.

RAY SUAREZ: With today’s escalation, Egypt pressed for an end to the Israeli airstrikes. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the Arab League to call an urgent meeting to discuss the strikes, and United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon for a de-escalation of tensions.