The IDF on Wednesday opened a campaign to remove the rocket menace afflicting
the South with the targeted killing of Hamas terror chief Ahmed
Named Operation Pillar of Defense (in Hebrew, Operation Pillar of
Cloud), the intense aerial strikes also targeted Hamas rocket arsenals
throughout the Gaza Strip.
Hamas responded with heavy rocket fire into
Israel, and the IDF deployed infantry brigades to the Gaza border ahead of a
possible ground offensive.
The IAF air strikes killed 11 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources. Around 100 Palestinians were also injured in the IAF strikes, according to Palestinian news agency Ma'an.
As 95 rockets exploded
across southern Israel on Wednesday night, schools within 40 km. of the Gaza
Strip were declared closed, and residents were urged to follow directives from
the IDF Home Front Command. Magen David Adom paramedics treated 13 Israelis for injuries suffered overnight, the organization said. Of the injured, four suffered light wounds while nine more suffered shock symptoms.
The Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted 30 rockets.
Schools and universities will be closed in
the South on Thursday from Beersheba to Ashdod.
are in lockdown, with residents ordered to remain in their homes if they live
within 7 km. of Gaza.
Explosions have been reported as far away as
Dimona, some 75 km. from the Gaza Strip.
At an emergency meeting in Tel
Aviv, the security cabinet authorized Defense Minister Ehud Barak to mobilize
reservists if needed.
The cabinet also agreed that the IDF should
continue to act against terrorist infrastructure and activity in Gaza. It
instructed the Foreign Ministry to begin a diplomatic public relations campaign
to explain that Israel was acting in self-defense against military targets,
because the continued rocket barrage had become intolerable.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone on Wednesday night with US
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton. He was also scheduled to speak with UN Secretary-General Ban
The prime minister thanked Obama and Biden for taking the
position that Israel had a right to defend itself.
The military operation
immediately increased tensions with Egypt, which condemned Israel’s actions and
recalled its ambassador.
But Barak and Netanyahu held a joint press
conference to explain that they had no choice.
“Today we relayed a clear
message to the Hamas organization and other terrorist organizations,” Netanyahu
told reporters. “And if there is a need, the IDF is prepared to broaden the
operation. We will continue to do everything in order to protect our
Barak said, “We are still at the beginning of the event, not at
the end, and we expect some complicated tests ahead. It will require vigilance;
not only in Gaza, but also in Israel and in Judea and Samaria. But in the long
run I believe that this operation will contribute to strengthening deterrence
and reinstituting the calm in the South.”
He added that the operation was
designed to damage rocket- launching networks, deliver a “painful blow” to Hamas
and other terrorist organizations, and protect the home front.
Tuesday, it had appeared as if an uneasy calm had been restored. Barak and
Netanyahu helped to strengthen that impression, by traveling to the North and
talking about Syria, even as they gave the final authorization for Wednesday’s
The operation began at 4 p.m. over Gaza City, where a
missile hit a car carrying Hamas armed wing chief Jabari, killing him and a
second man. Conflicting reports emerged over whether the second casualty was
Jabari’s bodyguard or his son. An air strike in southern Gaza killed a second
senior Hamas man.
The IDF warned all terrorists in Gaza to remain
underground if they wished to live.
The strikes were accompanied by a
series of sorties targeting underground launchers loaded with long-range Hamas
missiles that can reach more than 40 km. away from Gaza, such as Fajr missiles.
The air strikes eliminated most of Hamas’s long-range capabilities, the IDF
“The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to
southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terrorist organizations,”
IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said. “The home front must brace
He described Jabari as a man with “a lot of blood on his hands,”
and Gaza as a “forward Iranian base” where terrorist factions had spent years
building up a rocket arsenal.
“This is the beginning of the operation,”
Mordechai warned. “All options are available,” he added, alluding to the
possibility of a ground incursion.
Hamas warned that “the gates of hell
had opened,” as it struggled in the first few hours after the strikes to regain
its footing. As the evening drew on, the Hamas regime fired increasing numbers
of rockets across the border into southern Israel
Following the Hamas attacks, the IDF struck dozens
of underground rocket launchers loaded with medium-range projectiles that can
reach as far as 40 km.
Israel Navy ships also fired at Hamas terrorist
targets along the Gaza coast.
Prior to the operation, IDF
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz spent two days finalizing its details, as
the defense minister repeatedly visited the Gaza Division to go over the
Most of the Gaza weapons storage sites targeted by the Israel Air
Force were located in civilian residential buildings.
“This is further
evidence of Hamas’s pattern of using the population in Gaza as human shields,”
an IDF source stressed.
Before the operation was launched, four rockets –
believed to have come from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula – exploded in the Eshkol
The operation came after Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired 128
rockets into southern Israel earlier this week.
Arab countries condemned
Israel’s actions, while the US called on Hamas to stop its attacks against
“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into
southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and
Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification
for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing
against the people of Israel,” the US State Department said.
“We call on
those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s
right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort
to avoid civilian casualties,” it said.