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Israel kills Hamas commander

Israel killed the military commander of the Islamist group Hamas in a missile strike on the Gaza Strip

Eyewitness News

GAZA - Israel killed the military commander of the Islamist group Hamas in a missile strike on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and launched air raids across the enclave.

This act has pushed the two sides to the brink of a new war.

The attacks marked the biggest escalation between Israel and Gaza militants since a 2008-2009 conflict that killed about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

It came despite signs on Tuesday that neighbouring Egypt had managed to broker a truce in the strip, after a five day surge of violence. .

Hamas said Ahmed Al-Jaabari, who ran the organisation's armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, died along with an unnamed associate when their car was blown apart by an Israeli missile.

Palestinians said nine people were killed, including a seven-year-old girl.

Israel confirmed it had carried out the attack on Jaabari and warned that more strikes would follow. Reuters witnesses reported numerous explosions around Gaza, with Hamas security compounds and police stations among the targets.

Immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio.

Hamas has been supported by both Syria and Iran, which Israel regards as a rising threat to its own existence due to its nuclear programme.

Israel holds a general election on January 22 and conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure to respond firmly against Hamas.

In the latest confrontation, which appeared to have ended on Tuesday, more than 115 missiles were fired into southern Israel from Gaza and Israeli planes launched numerous strikes.

Seven Palestinians, three of them gunmen, were killed.

Eight Israeli civilians were hurt by rocket fire and four soldiers wounded by an anti-tank missile.

Israel's shekel fell nearly one percent to a two-month low against the dollar on Wednesday after news of the Israeli airstrikes broke.