JERUSALEM — An Israeli airstrike in Gaza has killed the top military commander of Hamas with Israel warning other Hamas members not to "show their faces above ground" in the next few days.
An Israeli missile killed Ahmed al-Jaabari Wednesday as he drove in a car in Gaza City, shattering a tacit cease-fire that lasted less than a day. Israeli news reports say his son was also killed.
The attack was part of a wave of airstrikes against Islamic militants in Gaza which Palestinians say killed seven other people, including two children.
Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service said Jaabari was killed because of his "decade-long terrorist activity," including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006. He was one of Israel's most wanted men and is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since an Israeli invasion of Gaza four years ago.
Exchanges of rocket fire and aerial bombardments between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed Wednesday evening after the attack.
A new operation
The Israeli government announced that the killing is the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants. Israel said it will be targeting sites in Gaza where mortars and rockets are stored.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will keep doing everything necessary to protect its citizens, including expanding its operation in Gaza. Hamas militants frequently fire rockets into Israel from Gaza.
Hamas warned Israel that "the occupation has opened the gates of hell." Egypt, which borders Gaza, has recalled its ambassador to Israel and is calling for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Television footage broadcast by Israel's government station showed Palestinian rescue workers struggling to extinguish flames engulfing a car on a Gaza street. The passenger compartment appeared to have been destroyed by the blast.
Gaza resident Mohammad Dawwas said the situation looks like a "war is starting in Gaza" with multiple air strikes sowing panic, people running home and a prevailing fear settling in.
"Airstrikes are everywhere, especially in Gaza City and the [southern and northern] Gaza Strip. People are running, going home, afraid of being injured, being shot, being hit," he said.
Israel leaders and Palestinian militants in Gaza Tuesday had tacitly agreed to a cease-fire after four days of cross-border bombardments in which seven Gaza Palestinians were killed, and civilians in southern Israel were wounded.
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Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, November 14, 2012.
People look at a wreckage of the car in which Ahmed al-Jaabari was killed, Gaza City, November 14, 2012.
Palestinians extinguish a fire after an Israeli air strike on a car carrying Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari, Gaza City November 14, 2012.
Palestinians surround the car carrying Ahmed al-Jaabari that was hit by an Israeli air strike, Gaza City, November 14, 2012.
A man holds a copy of the Koran after an Israeli air strike on a car of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari in Gaza City, November 14, 2012.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, visiting troops near the Gaza border on Tuesday, issued a strong warning. He said the matter has not ended and that Israel would decide how and when to act.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting wounded at a local hospital, had indicated the armed factions in Gaza would respect the cease-fire if Israel did.
Four days of cross-border rocket assaults and air strikes began Saturday when a rocket fired from Gaza struck an Israeli military vehicle near the border, wounding four soldiers.
Subsequent Israeli air attacks on Gaza killed three Palestinian fighters and four civilians.
Eight Israeli civilians were wounded as militants in Gaza fired more than 100 rockets into southern Israel over the following days.
Egyptian security officials reportedly had mediated the cease-fire.
Some Israeli officials had called for a resumption of assassinations of Hamas leaders or a military operation into Gaza in order to weaken the group that took power in Gaza five years ago.
Israel invaded the enclave nearly four years ago in an operation during which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.