Netanyahu: Israel will protect its citizens against Hamas terror

People gather around a wreckage of the car in which Ahmed Jabari was killed (Photo: AP/Adel Hana)

People gather around a wreckage of the car in which Ahmed Jabari was killed (Photo: AP/Adel Hana)

Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will expand the operation against terrorist forces in Gaza if it becomes necessary and "continue doing everything to protect our citizens".

The Israeli Prime Minister was speaking hours after a leading Hamas military commander was confirmed to have been killed in a targeted air strike, following days of sustained rocket attacks on Israel. He said this evening that "no country would accept a situation like this. Israel will not accept this situation."

"Hamas and the terror organisations have elected in recent days to escalate their attacks on Israel's citizens," he said. "[They] hurt our citizens with premeditation, while they deliberately conceal themselves behind their own citizens. We in contradistinction refrain to the extent possible from harming civilians; this is a fundamental difference between us and them.

"They would simply like to wipe us off the face of the earth and they have no reservations about harming innocent civilians."

Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, who was in charge of the nearly six-year imprisonment of Israeli captive Gilad Shalit, was considered one of the terrorist group's most important figures and was until today first on Israel's most-wanted list. He was said by an Israeli embassy spokesman to be "directly responsible for financing and executing terror attacks against the state of Israel" and behind Hamas' escalation of attacks against Israel.

"The worst terrorist atrocities that Israel has experienced in recent times have been a direct result of his involvement," said the spokesman.

IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch stated that Jabari had "a lot of blood on his hands".

Since Saturday terrorists operating from inside the Gaza Strip have fired 125 rockets and mortars across the border. More than 700 missiles have been fired into Israel this year, with some intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, and 2,500 have been launched at Israeli civilians since 2009..

A full picture of the military action carried out today, labelled "Pillar of Defence" and thought to be the most serious carried out in the region for four years, is still developing, but it is understood that the IDF struck more than 20 underground sites used by terrorist groups to store long-range missiles, including those that could hit 25 miles into Israel. Eight people were said to have been killed in the attack, with the Associated Press confirming that at least three were terrorists. The Israeli military stated on T witter that if necessary it would be "ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza," although officials have said this is not expected to happen at this stage in the operation. The IDF did not confirm that the Israeli navy has struck terror sites in the Gaza Strip.

Ofir Gendelman, Mr Netanyahu's spokesman, tweeted earlier: "We recommend that no Hamas terrorists, low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead."

The air strikes have been backed by Israel's leading Opposition politicians, including Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.

In response to Jabari's death a Hamas official said the terrorist group would "open the gates of hell" against Israel.

A Pentagon official, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Warren, said in a statement that the US was monitoring the situation closely. He said: "We stand by our Israeli partners in their right to defend themselves against terrorism."

In southern Israel, schools have been closed in anticipation of further rocket fire over the border.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists are planning a protest on Thursday evening outside the Israeli Embassy, while Israel advocates are arranging a counter-demonstration.

Last updated: 7:38pm, November 14 2012