Israeli Attacks Kill Nine in Gaza
Nine died and 35 were wounded, according to medical sources
Sara Sidner and Talal Abu Rachme CNN
November 14, 2012(CNN) -- An Israeli air strike Wednesday killed the head of Hamas' military wing, the first attack in a broader military operation against terrorist targets in response to an increase in rockets fired on Israel from Gaza.
Palestinian leaders immediately condemned the Israeli attacks as an escalation, with the Hamas military wing saying Israelis had opened "the gates of hell on themselves."
Medical sources said nine people died in the Israeli air strikes, including a young girl, and 35 others were wounded.
An Israel Defense Forces statement said the attack on a vehicle in Gaza carrying Ahmed al-Ja'abari, the Hamas military leader, was part of "an extensive program of direct offensive strikes against Hamas, Islamic Jihad" and other terrorist targets approved by Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the IDF chief of staff.
Described by the IDF as a "surgical operation," the strike came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week of pending retaliation by Israel for increased rocket attacks from Gaza.
Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas-led government in Gaza, confirmed that al-Ja'abari died in an Israeli airstrike. Medical sources told CNN that al-Ja'abari's bodyguard also was killed in the attack.
At least nine Israeli strikes had occurred in Gaza on Wednesday. Hamas said there had been more than 10.
The IDF said it targeted "a significant number of long-range rockets sites" to deliver "a significant blow" to Hamas' underground rocket launching capabilities and munitions warehouses.
Some of the munitions warehouses were in civilian residential buildings, which showed that Hamas uses a strategy of human shields, Israeli military sources said.
"The aim of targeting these sites is to hamper their rocket-launching weapons build up capabilities," the IDF statement said, adding that the Gaza strip had become "a frontal base for Iran firing rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens."
Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai of the IDF said all options remain open to "seriously damage Hamas" and other terrorist organizations. A Twitter post on an IDF account said Operation Pillar of Defense could include a ground operation in Gaza "if necessary."
Angry crowds gathered at the heavily damaged vehicle that contained al-Ja'abari and his bodyguard, and analysts warned that the Israeli attacks could lead to an escalation in the ongoing conflict.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Aqsa TV that Israel had "declared the war and will pay a heavy price for that."
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what he called the Israeli assassination of al-Ja'abari.
In an interview with CNN, Erakat labeled the attack the beginning of a "major, major Israeli escalation," and he called on the international community to pressure Israel to halt its operation.