Following four days of intensive rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip on neighboring towns and villages, and just hours after an Egypt-mediated truce, Israel announced it was launching a "widespread campaign" to root out "terror sites and operatives in the Gaza Strip, chief among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets."
In the opening salvo of "Operation Pillar of Defense" (AKA "Operation Pillar of Cloud"), the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out a targeted attack on the head of Hamas's armed wing Ahmed Jabari, killing both him and his son as they were driving in a car through Gaza City.
Ra'ad al-Atar, another senior Hamas militant, was also targeted, though he is believed to have survived.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) claims Jabari, commander of the so-called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was personally responsible for "numerous terror attacks against Israel, including the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit and the firing of hundreds of rockets in recent years."
In addition to taking out Jabari, the IAF also struck at least 20 underground rocket launchers, effectively crippling the ability of Gaza militants to fire long-range Fajr rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
"The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terror organizations," said IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai in a statement.
The armed wing of Hamas released a statement of its own, saying Israel "has opened the gates of hell on itself," and vowing to launch "suicide attacks and quality attacks" on Israeli cities. The Islamic Jihad joined Hamas in warning of consequences, claiming "Israel has declared war on Gaza."
IDF troops were being mobilized and reservists were being called up for a possible ground assault, though Mordechai, the IDF spokesman, said there were no concrete plans in place to send forces into Gaza.
UPDATE: The IDF has just posted drone's eye view footage of its targeted killing of Jabari and his son. The description underneath the video says the "surgical strike" was made possible through "precise intelligence" and "advanced firepower."
UPDATE 2: On its official Twitter feed, the IDF has issued a warning to "Hamas operatives" to avoid "show[ing] their faces above ground in the days ahead." But the tweet doesn't seem to be scaring off militants, who are continuing to fire rockets on the southern city of Be'er Sheva. Meanwhile, rumors swirl that the IDF is already on the ground in Gaza as Israel's prime minister says the operation could "expand."
[photo via AP]