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Israeli assassination in Gaza risks wider conflict

If the Palestinian group Hamas makes good on promises of revenge for the killing today of its top military chief, the situation could deteriorate. 

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Hamas also possess Iranian Fajr missiles, which have a range of 75 km (about 47 miles), putting Tel Aviv as well as some suburbs within reach. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared tonight that part of the operation targeted stockpiles of Fajr missiles, at least some of which were stored underground.

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Hamas is now paying the price for the acts of other factions that have been firing rockets and targeting Israeli forces along the borders, says Abu Saada.

"It's well known that the Islamic Jihad, the Salafists, and the leftist groups are the ones who have been targeting Israel, not the ruling Hamas party. But Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attacks since it’s the party who is in power."

What next?

The recent round of violence erupted when Palestinian militants belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) organization targeted an Israeli military vehicle along the Gaza-Israeli borders, killing one soldier.

Israel responded with aerial bombings, killing seven Palestinians, including gunmen, and wounding scores of others.

After the assassination of Jaabri, the Israeli army announced that this killing is just the beginning of a broader military operation.

The Palestinian response may also widen, with Hamas vowing that Israel’s strike had "opened doors of hell.”

In Lebanon, there is concern that the heightened tensions could provoke Palestinian militants in refugee camps to launch attacks into northern Israel as they did during the 2008-09 Gaza war.

“There is a risk,” says Milos Strugar, a long-time official with UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping body in southern Lebanon. “So we have to act … we are in close contact with [the Lebanese Army].”

Defense Minister Barak said Israel does not want war, but seemed to acknowledge that today's strikes could lead to greater confrontation. "We are still at the beginning of the event, not at the end, and we expect some complicated tests ahead," he said. "I call upon the leaders of the region to act with composure, in order to promote stability and restore quiet so that we are not – heaven forbid – dragged into further deterioration."

* Ms. Bryant also contributed reporting from Cairo.

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