GAZA CITY - Ahmed Al-Jabaari, the head of Hamas’s military wing, was killed by a targeted Israeli air strike Wednesday, in what Israel's military described as the beginning of a new campaign "against terror organizations in Gaza."

The Guardian reports Jabaari was killed when his car was hit by a missile as it drove through Gaza City. There are conflicting reports on the condition of his bodyguard and another passenger in the car.

Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, confirmed that it had targeted Jabaari because of his “decade-long terrorist activity.” Jabaari had been on Israel’s list of most wanted terrorists for years. The Twitter account of the Israeli defense spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, confirmed the strike as the beginning of a wider response to missiles fired across the border in recent days.

The assassination operation is called Pillar of Cloud (barak ravid), according to Israeli newspaper HaaretzAccording to Panet, a news site for Israeli Arabs, Israel government sources say other Palestinian leaders are also on the list for assassination.

Among the known actions of Jabaari was the kidnapping of Israeli-French soldier Gilad Shalit inside Israel in June 2006. Shalit was held in isolation for more than five years and finally exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in October 2011.

News of the attack on Jabaari spread quickly through the residential area where the missile fell, and hundreds of members of the Hamas militia groups chanted inside the hospital where the bodyguard was reportedly taken.

Gaza City (file photo - one-armed man)

An Al Jazeera reporter in Lebanon says that Jabaari “was considered very smart, very shrewd, … 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.”  

The conflict across the border of Gaza and Israel has been escalating for some weeks now in spite of a truce that was supposed to come into effect at the end of October. This week, Al Jazeera reports, at least seven Palestinians were killed in Israeli missile attacks, and many more wounded. Haaretz writes that a “rain” of rocket attacks from Gaza have forced “hundreds of thousands” of Israelis in southern Israel into bomb shelters.

The Israeli army said that its missile strikes had destroyed “over 20 underground rocket launchers,” and that the weapons had been kept in residential areas, which it said proved that Hamas was using the Gaza population as human shields.

Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai said that Jabaari was a man “with a lot of blood on his hands,” reported the Jerusalem Post, while Panet quoted a spokesman for the Hamas military wing Al-Qassam, as saying Israel has “opened the gates of hell.”