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Even so, the Jabari killing, carried out in broad daylight, was shocking. Hamas officials had brushed off the Israeli threats, illustrated by Jabari’s decision to drive in public. Hamas leaders typically go into hiding at times of rising tensions. Over the past two days, the fighting had shown signs of petering out as Egyptian mediators tried to broker a truce.
The Israeli military released a black-and-white video of the airstrike, showing a sedan moving slowly along a road before going up in flames in an explosion so powerful that a large chunk of the vehicle flew high into the air.
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. Plumes of black smoke wafted into Gaza City’s skies following other airstrikes. Ambulance sirens blared as people ran in panic in the streets and militants fired angrily into the air.
The Israeli military also released footage of its strikes against weapons depots and rocket-launching grounds. Barak said these airstrikes hit "terror infrastructure" and launchers used to fire Iranian-made Fajr rockets. The rockets, capable of reaching Tel Aviv, are among Hamas’ most powerful weapons.
The military said it hit dozens of medium-range rocket launch sites, many of which are located in residential buildings, military officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation. The military also said the navy was striking Hamas targets located by the shore. Hamas denied that any of its weapons stores were hit.
Hamas announced a state of emergency in Gaza. It evacuated all its security buildings and deployed its troops away from their locations.
Outside the hospital where Jabari’s body was taken, thousands of Gazans chanted "Retaliation!" and "We want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight!"
"I was sitting on my bed with my grandson when suddenly the wall collapsed on both of our heads," said Mahmoud Bana, a 62-year-old man who was slightly wounded along with his 11-year-old grandson. "We don’t know what happened but we know it is going to be a few hard days ahead."
In a statement, Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, eulogized Jabari and vowed revenge.
"We mourn our late leader who walked the path of jihad while he knew the end, either victory or martyrdom," Haniyeh said. "There is no fear among our people and our resistance, and we will face this vicious attack."
The airstrike bore many similarities to the start of Israel’s previous offensive in December 2008. That operation also began with an air raid on Hamas buildings, and also took place in between American presidential elections and Israeli parliamentary elections.
Hamas accused Netanyahu of launching Wednesday’s operation to win votes in the Jan. 22 parliamentary election. But major Israeli parties, including the dovish opposition, all lined up behind Netanyahu.
Still, the region has changed greatly over the past four years. Most critically for Israel, Egypt is now governed by Hamas’ ideological counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace accord in 1979. Relations, never warm, have deteriorated since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year. The assassination threatened to further damage those fraying ties.
On its official Facebook page, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, called Jabari’s assassination a "crime that requires a quick Arab and international response to stem these massacres against the besieged Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."
It accused Israel of trying to "drag the region toward instability."
In Washington, the United States lined up behind Israel. "We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. He denounced Hamas rocket attacks.
Netanyahu spoke to Obama and thanked him for the support, said a statement from his office.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and urged both sides to respect international humanitarian law.
Israel’s use of targeted killings is one of the most contentious policies used against militants.
Advocates say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future attacks by removing their masterminds.Next Page >
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