The State Department on Wednesday condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and said the U.S. government supports Israel's right to retaliate, as Israel did today by killing Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari.
"We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence," State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. "There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel's right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties."
Toner placed the blame for the new violence squarely on Hamas for initiating a campaign in recent weeks that has included firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory.
"Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination," Toner said.
The Israeli embassy in Washington said that in the last week alone, Hamas launched 150 rockets at Israel's southern region, prompting the IDF to respond with targeted strikes aimed at those responsible, as well as at Hamas's military infrastructure.
"The IDF seriously impacted Hamas's long range missile capabilities and underground weapons storage facilities. Most of the Hamas rockets that have been fired at our civilians in the past have had a range of up to 25 miles. Today, we have been targeting the Fajr-5, which has a range of nearly 40 miles, putting three million Israelis within terrorist missile range," the embassy said in a statement. "The IAF has been surgical and restrained in its response to the Hamas missile escalations, and has not targeted the long-range missiles stored in mosques, schools, and hospitals."
"Israel has the right and duty to defend itself from terrorist attacks designed to kill thousands of its citizens," Ambassador Michael Oren said in a statement. "We are sending an unequivocal message that our citizens will not be hostage to terrorist missile fire and cross-border attacks. The scope of the IDF's defensive operation depends on Hamas and whether it takes the decision to cease firing missiles on our neighborhoods and homes."
In a phone briefing with reporters Wednesday, IDF Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich would not comment on reports that IDF battalions were either surrounding Gaza or had already entered Gaza, but he said that a ground incursion is a possibility.
"IDF General Staff is currently assessing the progress of the operation and according to its findings, will decide how to continue. All options are on the table, including a ground operation," he said.
The IDF distributed a stunning video on YouTube of the pinpoint airstrike that killed Jabari in his car Wednesday, and the IDF blog has been posting videos and photos all day of the escalating violence in Gaza. One poster the IDF created shows a picture of Jabari with a stamp over it that reads "Eliminated."
"We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead," the IDF tweeted.
"Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)," Al Qassam tweeted in response.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.