Update as of 6:05 a.m. EDT: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement released on Thursday, lauded the role of Shin Bet, the country's internal security agency, in the killing of three senior Hamas commanders, Haaretz reported.
The “hard work and professionalism” of Shin Bet had enabled the Israeli military to “carry out this operation against the Hamas leaders who plotted fatal attacks against Israelis,” Netanyahu reportedly said, referring to pre-dawn air strikes in Rafah that killed the three Hamas commanders.
“In the name of every Israeli citizen, I thank the Shin Bet, the heads of the intelligence and operational units, and the chief of the organization, Yoram Cohen,” he said, according to Haaretz. Meanwhile, the Israeli military said that it had killed six militants of the Islamic Jihad -- a Palestinian Islamist organization -- as they were “about to launch rockets into Israel.”
Al Jazeera reported that 17 people have been killed so far in Gaza on Thursday, including six children.
Update as of 2:10 a.m. EDT: Hamas said on Thursday that three commanders of the al-Qassam Brigades -- Mohamed Abu Shamaleh, Raed al-Attar and Mohamed Barhoum -- had been killed in overnight Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, according to media reports.
The Israeli security agency Shin Bet also confirmed the deaths of the three commanders, Haaretz reported.
Hamas said that it would intensify its attacks on Thursday and target Israel’s strategic assets, including Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Al Jazeera reported.
“We are warning international airlines and press them to stop flying into Ben Gurion airport from 6 a.m.,” Abu Obaida, a spokesperson for the al-Qassam Brigades -- Hamas’ armed wing-- reportedly said in a televised speech late on Wednesday. He also asked Palestinian negotiators to withdraw from talks in Cairo after the deaths of the wife and seven-month-old son of Hamas’ military commander Mohammed Deif.
However, Moussa Abu Marzouk, who is heading Hamas’ delegation to Cairo, told Al Jazeera that they are not withdrawing yet and are waiting to hear back from Egypt about Israel's decision on rejoining the talks.
“The occupation will pay for its crimes against Palestinian civilians and those living around the Gaza border will not return home until Mohammed Deif decides,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
Reacting to Hamas’ threats, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said that the military campaign in the Gaza Strip will last as long as needed to restore security to Israelis. “We will not stop until we secure full security and quiet for the residents of the south and all citizens of Israel.”
“Our policy with Hamas is simple-if they open fire they will be struck back seven times over,” Netanyahu reportedly said, in a televised address late on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement released Wednesday, said that he was “gravely disappointed” by the resumption of hostilities in the Gaza Strip.
“The hopes of the people in Gaza for a better future and the hopes of the people in Israel for sustainable security rest on the talks in Cairo,” Ban said, urging the Israeli and Palestinian delegations “to live up to this expectation and… to reach an immediate understanding on a durable ceasefire which also addresses the underlying issues afflicting Gaza.”
Since the resumption of rocket fire late on Tuesday, at least 20 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, raising the death toll from the ongoing conflict to over 2,100, BBC reported Thursday.