The Palestinians fired 50 rockets from Gaza on Wednesday night after an Israeli air assault killed the Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari and destroyed many missile sites. Iron Dome intercepted 17 of the incoming rockets against Beersheba, Ashdod, and Eshkol. None caused casualties.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi recalled his ambassador from Tel Aviv and called a UN Security Council session to stop “Israeli aggression.” So far, Cairo has not acted to sever relations.

After confirming the death of the master-terrorist Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’s military arm, Ezz e-din al-Qassam, Hamas announced: We are now at war with Israel.

Jabari, 52, was killed by a targeted Israeli air attack in Gaza City. A key figure in the radical Palestinian Hamas movement, he was caught driving in a black Mercedes in Gaza City. His son was also reportedly killed. There are reports that Raed al-Atar, commander of Hamas’s southern division, has also been killed.

Among other exploits, Ahmed Jaabari, 52, was personally responsible for the abduction and holding of IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit. Raed al-Atar was in charge of Hamas’s smuggling tunnels.

Hamas has announced a general call-up and threatened to respond not just with rockets but suicide attacks inside Israel. Its leaders warned that their Fajr-5 rockets had a range of 75 kilometers and could reach locations north of Tel Aviv.

Israeli sources say the air operation called Pillar of Cloud, or Amud Anan, is aimed at targeting more Hamas leaders, degrading its military infrastructure, and demolishing its rocket stocks, especially the long-range Fajrs.

The Israeli Navy joined the air force in striking Palestinian missile sites in southern Gaza from the sea.

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reported that the wave of Israeli air strikes over Gaza had seriously degraded the Hamas terrorists’ ability to conduct missile attacks on central Israel, despite a major effort to avoid harming civilians. “We are set to expand out counterterror operation if necessary,” he said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that most of Hamas’s Fajr rockets and their silos had been hit as well as many other strategic sites. Operation Pillar of Cloud had four objectives, said Barak: restoring Israel’s deterrence; seriously reducing the terrorists’ rocket arsenal; harming their high-profile leaders; and restoring peace to southern Israel.

The IDF spokesman reported that reserve units are standing by in case a ground operation is called for by a Palestinian escalation. The IDF Spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, announced, “We are at the beginning of a wide-scale attack, in view of the unbearable situation of the residents of the South.”

“While we are not talking about conquering all of Gaza,” Mordechai said, “there is preparation for a ground operation as well, which will be undertaken if it is necessary. The required military units that need to be diverted for such an operation are at the ready.”

Special police units are on the ready in all parts of Israel for possible terrorist attacks. Locations within a 40-kilometer range of the Gaza Strip were advised to stand ready to take rocket attacks from Gaza until Operation Pillar of Cloud was over. All schools within rocket range of the Gaza Strip will remain closed Thursday and emergency services are on high alert. The million Israeli civilians suffering perennial Palestinian rocket assaults are being advised to stay close to shelters for the duration of the operation. (DEBKAfile, Gil Ronen)


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