The attack on a vehicle carrying Ahmed al-Ja'abari in Gaza was part of "an extensive program of direct offensive strikes against Hamas, Islamic Jihad" and other terrorist targets approved by Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, an IDF statement said.
Described by the IDF as a "surgical operation," the strike came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week of pending retaliation by Israel for increased rocket attacks from Gaza.
Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas-led government in Gaza, confirmed that al-Ja'abari died in an Israeli airstrike. Medical sources told CNN that al-Ja'abari's bodyguard also was killed in the attack.
According to a CNN reporter, a total of eight Israeli strikes have occurred in Gaza Wednesday. No details were immediately available on the other strikes.
Angry crowds gathered at the heavily damaged vehicle that contained al-Ja'abari and his bodyguard, and analysts warned that the Israeli attacks could lead to an escalation in the ongoing conflict.
"The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure," the IDF statement said. "This was a surgical operation in cooperation with the Israeli Security Agency, that was implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities."
Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai of the IDF said all options remained open to "seriously damage Hamas" and other terrorist organizations.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what he called the Israeli assassination of al-Ja'abari.
In an interview with CNN, Erakat labeled the attack the beginning of a "major, major Israeli escalation," and he called on the international community to pressure Israel to halt its operation.