GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli airstrike killed the commander of the military wing of Gaza's Hamas rulers Wednesday, Hamas officials and Israel confirmed, in a dramatic resumption of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militant leaders.
Ahmed Jabari was the most senior Hamas official to be killed since an Israeli invasion of Gaza four years ago. Jabari has long topped Israel's most-wanted list. Israel blamed him for in a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
Israel said the assassination marked the beginning of an offensive. It was followed by a string of airstrikes around Gaza.
On its Twitter feed, the Israeli military said it could be escalated further. "All options are on the table. If necessary, the (Israeli military) is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza," it said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his senior Security Cabinet after sundown Wednesday, officials said.
Israeli officials said earlier that they were considering assassinating top Hamas officials following a wave of rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip at southern Israel, triggering Israeli airstrikes that killed six Palestinians. The exchanges appeared to be waning on Tuesday.
The killing of Jabari seemed likely to re-ignite the flare-up. Palestinians called for punishing retaliation.
Witnesses said Jabari was traveling in a vehicle in Gaza City when the car exploded. Crowds of people and security personnel rushed to the scene of the strike, trying to put out the fire that had engulfed the car and left it a charred shell.
Hamas police cordoned off the area around a hospital where at least one body from the strike was taken. It was draped in a white sheet, with a burned leg poking out. Hamas said another man was killed in the airstrike. Hamas police said three other airstrikes hit other targets in Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah.