TEL AVIV, November 14 (RIA Novosti) – The Israeli army said on Wednesday it had started a large-scale operation aimed at eliminating key militant commanders and “terrorist infrastructure” in the Gaza Strip controlled by radical Islamist group Hamas.
“The Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] have launched a large-scale campaign against the infrastructure and activists of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, including, primarily, Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” the IDF said in a statement.
Ahmed al-Jabari, head of Hamas' armed wing - the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam - became the first target hit in a series of well-planned air strikes on Gaza. He was killed earlier on Wednesday when his car was hit by an Israeli missile.
Other targets of the Operation Cloud Pillar include rocket launch sites belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
According to preliminary reports, dozens of long-range rockets were destroyed on Wednesday, including Fajr-5 missiles, which have a range of more than 40 kilometers and are capable of hitting Tel Aviv.
At least nine people were killed in the attacks and more than 15 were injured, local health authorities said on Wednesday, citing initial casualty figures. There were a number of civilians among the dead, including a four-year-old child, they said.
Israeli online news resource Ynetnews.com reported that the IDF had also “decided to deploy additional infantry units in the south ahead of a possible ground offensive in Gaza.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have called for retaliation saying “Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences.”
The Israeli attacks follow the latest round of violence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip that began over the weekend, with numerous rocket attacks from Gaza militants that injured seven Israelis and Israeli airstrikes that killed seven and injured at least 40 Palestinians.
More than 100 rockets have exploded in Israel since Saturday, according to Israeli sources. The fire exchanges appeared to die down on Tuesday.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threatened on Sunday to launch another ground attack on Gaza if the Palestinian militants continue firing rockets at neighboring Israeli regions.
"If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to hit Hamas and restore calm, we will not hesitate to do so," Barak said.
Israel last carried out a full-scale attack on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead four years ago in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.