Senior Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari has been killed in an Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City, Israeli and Palestinian officials say.
“The martyr is Ahmed al-Jabari and his bodyguard was injured,” Ayman Sahabani, a doctor at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, said.
A Hamas security source also confirmed Jabari’s death, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency and the military also confirmed the operation.
“During a joint operation of the General Security Service [Shin Bet] and the IDF [army] today, Ahmed Jabari, the senior commander of the military wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was targeted,” a statement from the Shin Bet said.
The military said Jabari “was a senior Hamas operative… directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the State of Israel in the past number of years”.
“The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure,” it said in a statement.
Military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said the strike was the start of an operation targeting armed groups in Gaza following multiple rocket attacks on southern Israel.
“The IDF started an operation against terror organisations in Gaza due to the ongoing attacks against Israeli civilians,” she said on her Twitter account.
Jabari is said to have been the head of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He co-ordinated much of Hamas’ military capability, its military strategy, and the transformation of the military wing.
He also led the final negotiations in Cairo that concluded the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel in 2011.
The killing of Jabari sparked furious protests in Gaza City, with hundreds of members of Hamas and the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, chanting for revenge inside Shifa hospital.
Outside, armed men fired weapons into the air, and mosques throughout the city called prayers to mourn the commander’s death.
Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from the attack site, said people were “very angry”,
“This is a residential area, and people have rushed to the site as soon as they heard the news.”
Palestinian security sources and medics confirmed a total of four air strikes across Gaza during the late afternoon, two in Gaza City, one of which killed Jabari, one in northern Gaza, and a fourth in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Wednesday’s attack comes after several days worth of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, leaving at least seven Palestinians dead and several more wounded.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, said Jabari had been a target for Israel for a long time.
“This is a big loss for Hamas, and a success for Israel, who have been after him for a while.” she said.
“We will see an escalation for sure within the immediate future.”
“People in Gaza know him. He was considered very smart, very shrewd, considered to be a hero because he had managed until now to escape numerous assassination attempts by Israel.”
“People will be bracing for more violence, not just against Hamas but against the civilians too.”
Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned on Tuesday that a flare-up in violence with Gaza was “not over,” after Palestinian fighters fired two more rockets and Israel carried out air strikes throughout the previous night.
Barak, meeting Israeli military chiefs, said the current round of confrontations was ongoing, adding that Israel would decide how and when to respond to the rocket fire.
“It is certainly not over and we will decide how and when to act if necessary,” he said in remarks communicated by his office.
“We intend to reinforce the deterrence, and strengthen it, so that we are able to operate along the length of the border fence in a way that will ensure the security of all our soldiers who are serving around the Gaza Strip,” he said.
“At this time… it is preferable to act [in a timely fashion] rather than just talk.”
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)