The IAF struck and killed Hamas armed wing Izzadin Kassam Brigades commander Ahmed Jabari in central Gaza on Wednesday. The strike marked the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense to target Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in Gaza, IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai announced.
Jabari was killed when an IAF missile struck the car he was traveling in, in the central Strip. One other person was killed in the attack.
Following the assassination, the IAF struck over 20 underground rocket launchers belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The airstrikes targeted long-range rockets in the possession of terror organizations, such as the Fajr-5 and other rockets that are capable of striking Tel Aviv from Gaza. Palestinian sources said that six Gazans were killed in the IDF strikes.
The IDF said it believes it has eliminated the majority of the long-range threat.
"The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terror organizations," Mordechai said. "The homefront must brace itself resiliently," he added, describing Jabari as a man with "a lot of blood on his hands."
The IDF says Jabari carried out and ordered numerous terror attacks against Israel, including the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit and the firing of hundreds of rockets in recent years.
Mordechai added that Gaza is a "forward Iranian base," adding that the latest campaign of air strikes targeted most of the long-range offensive capabilities in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
He added that columns of smoke were visible around Gaza.
The majority of the Gaza weapons storage sites targeted by the IAF were located in civilian residential buildings, the IDF confirmed. "This is further evidence of the pattern of Hamas to use the population in Gaza as human shields," the IDF stressed.
Ten people including three children were killed by Israeli strikes on Wednesday, according to the Gazan health ministry. About 40 were wounded. Among the dead were an 11-month-old baby and a woman pregnant with twins.
The IDF has urged civilians to pay attention to instructions from the Home Front Command in light of the developments.
Hamas: Occupation has opened the gates of hell
In response to the attacks, Hamas said that "the occupation has opened the gates of hell."
Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said the assassination will not "break the will of our people, nor weaken our resistance," Al Ahram reported. Al-Rishq made the comments on his Facebook site, adding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is using the "war crime" to boost his chances of reelection, but that it could "cost him his political future."
Wednesday's violence came after a four-day rocket barrage which began Saturday appeared to have come to an end on Tuesday evening. The hostilities saw over 100 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel and Israeli retaliatory strikes which killed six Palestinians.
Both Israel and Hamas sent signals to each other via Egypt that they would hold their fire unless attacked, after five days of mounting violence.