Israel launches operation ‘Pillar of Defense’

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City, on November 14, 2012. Israel killed a top Hamas military commander in a targeted strike in Gaza. [Edi Israel/Flash90 photo]

JERUSALEM — In response to four days of unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza, Israel launched a new military operation, dubbed “Pillar of Defence,” in an attempt to stem the barrage, the government announced.

In the wake of its targeted killing of Hamas’ military chief in the Gaza Strip and strikes on terror targets, Israel began moving infantry units south and called up reservists.

Ahmed Jabari and a passenger were killed by an Israeli missile on Nov. 14 when the car they were driving in was hit in what Israeli military officials called a “surgical strike.” The passenger was reported to be Jabari’s son, according to Yediot Achronot, though it was not confirmed by other sources.

Following the strike, the Israel Defence Forces bombed about 20 underground launch sites and ammunition warehouses in the Gaza Strip. The targets were pinpointed by Israeli military intelligence, according to the IDF. Military sources said the sites had been located over several months and many were in civilian areas.

Eight Palestinians, terrorists and civilians, reportedly have been killed in the Israeli strikes and 30 have been wounded.

In response to the assassination, terror cells in Gaza fired more than 50 rockets into southern Israel, including 17 long-range Grad rockets fired at Be’er Sheva. The Iron Dome system downed some 17 rockets over Be’er Sheva and towns surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Israeli residents of the border areas were instructed to remain in bomb shelters until further notice. Meanwhile, school was cancelled for Nov. 15 in southern Israeli communities located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border. 

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Dinn Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly said in a statement following the attack, “The occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself.”

Shortly after the killing, at least two rockets were fired toward Ashkelon and another two toward Be’er Sheva. The latter two reportedly were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel also mobilized several infantry units and called up reserve troops. Israel last entered Gaza with ground troops during the month-long Gaza war that began in December 2008.

The strike came after four days of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel. More than 150 rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza, causing damage to homes and factories.

Jabari was directly responsible for carrying out terror attacks against Israel for the past several years, the IDF said in a statement. He was filmed escorting captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was held hostage in Gaza for more than five years, when he was handed over to Egypt last year on his way back to Israel.

“The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF statement said. “This was a surgical operation in co-operation with the Israeli Security Agency that was implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities.”

Not long after Jabari was killed, Israeli President Shimon Peres called U.S. President Barack Obama to update the newly re-elected U.S. leader on the situation.

“Our intention is not to raise the flames, but already for days, day and night, they are shooting rockets at Israel,” Peres told Obama, according to a statement from Peres’ office. “Women cannot fall asleep. I was today there with the children. You know, there are limits. So I want you to know and I wanted to explain our motives.”

Jewish community reaction in Canada was one of caution.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) distributed an informational email to community members outlining the timeline of events and the number of rockets fired from Gaza, and telling Canadians that the renewed hostilities could have “implications” in Canada.

“In the short term, [CIJA] expects that hostilities will continue to escalate with the potential for more sophisticated and longer reaching weapons deployed by Hamas. There are also reports of Israeli troops mobilizing to the south of the country, which could signal a potential ground operation. The centre is closely monitoring the situation and will advise if any increased security preparedness or heightened alert level becomes necessary,” CIJA said.

With files from Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf and