Gaza Under Attack: Israeli Military Assassinates Hamas Leader in First Salvo of Bombing Campaign

Israel has killed a senior Hamas leader for the first time in almost four years. More Hamas members continue to be targeted, while reports come in of civilians in Gaza being killed and injured.

The Israeli military launched a campaign of air strikes against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip November 14 by assassinating the head of the Palestinian group’s armed wing. Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’ Qassam military brigades, was killed when an Israeli jet dropped a bomb on a car he was traveling in along with another man, whose name is not yet known.

The Israel Defense Forces announced that the assassination was the beginning of “Operation Pillar of Defense,” a campaign targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another armed group in Gaza.

The New York Times reports that Al-Jabari was “the most senior official of the group to be killed by the Israelis since their invasion of Gaza four years ago.”

After the assassination, the Israeli Air Force continued to pound the Gaza Strip with air strikes, leading to the deaths of more people, including a one-year-old baby, according to a French photographer on the ground there. Gaza is home to 1.5 million civilians, half of whom are children. The Strip has endured a devastating air, land and sea blockade from Israel ever since Hamas came to power after winning elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006.

Israel has long used extrajudicial assassinations as a favored tool against Palestinian armed groups.

“Israel's latest bombing campaign in Gaza, and in particular its assassination of Palestinian leaders, highlights once again that Israel views itself as above the law,” said Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a statement. “This is precisely why the international community, and in particular the United States, must hold Israel accountable for its provocative and illegal actions, in order to stop another bloodbath in Gaza before it happens. It is time for the world to send Israel the message that it is not above the law and the Palestinians are not beneath it.”

In response to the killing of Al-Jabari, Hamas promised to make Israel “pay a high price.” Rockets fired from Palestinian armed groups have already been shot into Israel in response, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. And like clockwork, the U.S. military has come out in support of Israel’s campaign. “We're monitoring the situation closely. We stand by our Israeli partners in their right to defend themselves against terrorism,” said a Pentagon spokesperson.

The escalation in Gaza comes after a 24-hour lull in fighting between Israel and armed Palestinian groups, one of many periodic flare-ups recently. What makes this different is that Israel has resumed assassinating the leaders of Hamas, which is likely to provoke a stronger response.

Before the 24-hour lull, Israel had again sparked a major round of fighting. Last week’s attacks started when Israel killed a 13-year-old in Gaza. In response, armed groups responded by attacking Israeli military vehicles and firing rockets at civilian areas in Israel. That fighting resulted in the deaths of 7 Palestinians, including 3 children, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Egypt, in the throes of its own revolutionary transition and led by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, brokered a truce that was holding between Palestinian armed groups and Israel. But the assassination of Al-Jabari has decisively broken that truce. The wild card now is Egypt. The Egyptian populace is strongly in favor of the Palestinian struggle, and President Mohamed Morsi will surely be under pressure to come out strongly against the Israeli attacks. But Morsi is also hemmed in by what will likely be strong U.S. pressure to keep any response to the rhetorical level.

The Israeli military campaign also comes right before Israeli elections, which are scheduled to begin in February. Some have speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using the assault on Gaza to burnish his credentials ahead of the elections. Those opposing Netanyahu in the elections have also come out in support of the assault on Gaza.

The renewed military campaign against Gaza comes almost four years after “Operation Cast Lead,” the name of the devastating assault on Gaza in 2008-09. That assault killed about 1,400 Palestinian civilians, the vast majority of them civilians.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.