Hamas confirmed Thursday that three of its military commanders were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza, but said the chief of the militant group's military wing, Mohammed Deif, escaped an assassination attempt that killed his wife and son.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement praising Shin Bet, the country's internal security organization, for their "hard work and professionalism" in carrying out the operation after midnight on Wednesday, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports.
Israel struck some 110 targets in Gaza in response to Hamas firing more than 175 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday. Palestinian officials reported that more than 22 people have been killed since midnight on Thursday alone.
The month-long Gaza war has so far killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas purportedly boasted during a conference in Istanbul on Wednesday that the group's military wing was behind the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June that provoked the violence leading to the latest Gaza war, Ha'aretz reports from Turkey..
A video captured during the conference shows Salach Al-Aruri, who is based in Turkey and is considered a prominent figure within the militant group, saying that the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were responsible for the abduction of the three teenagers.
"It has been said that it is an Israeli conspiracy, and I say it isn't," Aruri says on the tape.
"The al-Qassam's mujahedeen were the ones to carry out [the abduction] in show of support for the prisoners' hunger strike," he adds, referring to Palestinian inmates held in Israel, the newspaper says.
The remarks were made during an event organized by the World Association of Muslim Scholars, according to Ha'aretz . Aruri served 16 years in an Israeli prison before being expelled.
In the latest clashes, the three Hamas leaders, including the two most senior commanders in the southern Gaza strip, were killed in the strike near Rafah. Palestinian health official Ashraf Al-Kidra said "dozens" were missing at the site in the southern part of the coastal territory.
In a text message to the media, Hamas said the three military leaders — Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Mohammed Barhoum and Raed al-Attar — were killed, along with three other people.
A Shin Bet confirmed the deaths of Shamaleh and al-Attar in an email but did not mention Barhoum, according to the Associated Press.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Thursday that the Hamas military commanders "were responsible for serious attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers, including the abduction of Gilad Shalit."
Shalit was a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in 2006 when he was captured by Hamas and held for five years. He was released in 2011 in an exchange for Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Shamaleh and al-Attar, are believed by Israel to have been involved in several abductions of Israeli soldiers, according to Israel's Arutz 7 TV.
In addition to Shalit's abduction, Attar is suspected of coordinating an Aug. 1 operation that killed two Israeli soldiers and abducted a third, who later died.
In the latest attacks, Israel tried and failed to kill Deif in an airstrike in Gaza City that killed his wife and infant son. Hamas said Deif, who has survived multiple assassination attempts, was not in the home at the time. Deif reportedly lives in hiding and is believed to be paralyzed from previous attempts on his life.
The strike came after the breakdown of Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo aimed at producing a long-term truce and a future roadmap for Gaza after more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hamas-led Islamic militants.
In a nationally televised address Wednesday, Netanyahu showed little willingness to return to the negotiating table after six weeks of war with Hamas.
"We are determined to continue the campaign with all means and as is needed," he said, his defense minister by his side. "We will not stop until we guarantee full security and quiet for the residents of the south and all citizens of Israel."
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed "deep regret" over the breaking of the cease-fire. It said in a statement Wednesday that it "continues bilateral contacts" with both sides aimed at restoring calm and securing a lasting truce that "serves the interest of the Palestinian people, especially in relation to the opening of the crossings and reconstruction."
An Egyptian compromise proposal calls for easing the Gaza blockade but not lifting it altogether or opening the territory's air and seaports, as Hamas has demanded.
While the plan does not require Hamas to give up its weapons, it would give Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted by Hamas, a foothold back in Gaza running border crossings and overseeing internationally backed reconstruction.
The Gaza blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas and other militant groups from getting weapons. Critics say the measures amount to collective punishment.
Contributing: Oren Dorell in McLean, Va.; Associated Press