Israel appears to have unleashed another war on the Gaza strip today, starting with a barrage of airstrikes that killed the head of Hamas' military wing and at least eight other people, including two young girls. Israel described the attacks as the start of "an extensive program of direct offensive strikes against Hamas" and Islamic jihad, CNN reports. Palestinian leaders characterized the attack as an act of war, saying Israel had opened "the gates to hell on themselves." One Hamas official tells YNetnews that the gloves have come off, and that Hamas might retaliate with suicide bombings in major Israeli cities.
The precision hit on military chief Ahmed al-Jabari's car was followed up within minutes by 20 more airstrikes, a Hamas health minister said; Reuters describes plumes of smoke and debris erupting as civilians ran for cover. Israel's chief military spokesman says Israel was hitting targets that included underground rocket and missile caches, and warned that the conflict "will, in my estimation, prove protracted," adding that Israel had made preparations for a ground invasion if necessary. In other developments:
- Reports are now coming in that Israeli warships are firing on Gaza from the Mediterranean, the Guardian's liveblog reports.
- Mahmoud Abbas called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the attack, Reuters reports.
- Ban Ki-Moon called for an "immediate de-escalation of tensions," a UN spokesman said. Britain likewise called for restraint.
- Israel has named the offensive "Pillar of Cloud," which, Gawker points out, is a reference to the form God takes in the biblical account of the Israelites' flight from Egypt in order to strike terror into the Egyptian army.
- Benjamin Netanyahu defended the strikes, saying the Palestinians were "on purpose hiding behind their own citizens. We don't want to hit the citizens. And that is the difference between them and us."
- Ehud Barack has reportedly ordered Israeli reservists called up for the operation, according to Al-Jazeera.