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Israel and Hamas on the brink of war after assassination of military leader

Hamas military commander killed as Israel launches new Gaza offensive.

Israel and Hamas were on the brink of war today after Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed the head of Hamas's military wing and at least nine other Palestinians. Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since the major Israeli offensive four years ago. He died in his car along with an aide as Israel launched more than 50 airstrikes across Gaza after days of rocket fire from the territory. Palestinian reports said 10 people died in the offensive, named Operation Pillar of Defence, including two children.

Hamas last night responded to the attacks by declaring that Israeli had "opened the doors of hell."

"The Israeli occupation has committed a dangerous crime and exceeded all red lines. This is considered to be a war and they will pay a high price."

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the killing of al-Jabari  had sent a "clear message" to Hamas, adding: "if it becomes necessary we are prepared to expand the operation." In a statement on Twitter, the Israeli Defence Force said: "All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza."

In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu last night, Barack Obama reiterated US support for Israel's right to self-defence against rocket attacks from Gaza but urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in the Palestinian territory. "The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the White House said.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was held last night at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinians.

"Once again the international community is witness to Israel's malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenceless Palestinian civilian population," the Palestinian Authority's UN envoy Riyad Mansour told the Council.

"A direct firm message must be sent to Israel to cease immediately its military campaign against the Palestinian people and to abide ... by its obligations under international law."

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told Netanyahu of his expectation that "Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed that could cause additional civilian casualties and have dangerous spillover effects in the region," the UN said.

The British Foreign Office issued a statement saying: "We continue to call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent a dangerous escalation that would be in no-one's interests."

Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel, recalled its ambassador from the country and urged Arab leaders to take "decisive action".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.