GAZA CITY: Hamas warned foreign airlines Wednesday against flying into Tel Aviv and declared truce talks in Cairo over, as Israel said its campaign in Gaza might become an extended operation.
At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war, launched July 8, “will be a continued campaign” aimed at restoring “calm and safety” to Israeli citizens.
He added, however, that he saw a “new diplomatic horizon” ahead for Israel in the region, alluding to possible diplomacy with Palestinians ahead once the war was over.
His Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon added that “all options are open, including renewed ground operations” in Gaza.
Netanyahu compared Hamas to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), calling them “branches of the same tree” and accusing both groups of acting with “savagery” by killing and targeting attacks against civilians.
The warning from Hamas’ armed wing came after Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza Wednesday, as mourners buried the wife and infant son of Hamas’ top military commander, and called for revenge.
Mohammed Deif, who has topped Israel’s most wanted list for more than a decade, had escaped the assassination attempt, Hamas said.
Israel, which had carried out five previous attempts on Deif’s life, said that it would have no qualms about trying again, and described him as an “arch-murderer.”
So far, 20 Gazans have been killed since Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets on southern Israel Tuesday and Israeli F16 fighter jets carried out airstrikes, Palestinian medics say.
“We are warning international airlines and press them to stop flying into Ben Gurion airport from 6 a.m. Thursday,” the spokesman of the Hamas armed wing, Abu Obeida, said.
Last month, many international airlines briefly suspended flights into Tel Aviv after a Hamas rocket struck close to the airport.
Abu Obeida said Hamas was abandoning efforts to negotiate a durable cease-fire with Israel at Egyptian-brokered talks.
“We are calling on the Palestinian delegation to withdraw immediately from Cairo and not to return,” he said in a speech broadcast on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel.
“There will be no return to talks after today and any move in this direction will never achieve any result,” he added. “The enemy lost a golden chance to reach a cease-fire with limited demands, for which it will pay after today.” The bloodshed pushed to 2,047 the number of Gazans killed in six weeks of the most violent confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising (2000-2005).
Another 67 people have died on the Israeli side. The U.N. says around three-quarters of the victims in Gaza were civilians. Sixty-four of the Israeli dead were soldiers.
Egyptian mediators scrambled for weeks to push the warring sides to agree a decisive end to the bloodshed, but their latest attempts collapsed Tuesday when the fighting resumed.
Several thousand angry mourners joined the funeral procession for Deif’s 27-year-old wife and 7-month-old son in the Jabaliya refugee camp, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and demanding revenge.
Deif heads Hamas’ armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which vowed to open the “gates of hell” on Israel in retaliation for the killings.
The mourners, firing Kalashnikovs, buried Widad and her son Ali, who died alongside another woman and a teenager when a missile slammed into a six-story building in Gaza City late Tuesday. It was the first deadly airstrike since Aug. 10.
In Israel, Interior Minister Gideon Saar justified the attack, calling Deif a legitimate target. “Mohammed Deif deserves to die just like [late Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden. He is an arch-murderer and as long as we have an opportunity we will try to kill him,” Saar told Army Radio.
An army spokeswoman said Gaza militants had fired 159 rockets, of which 119 had hit southern and central Israel, while 27 had been shot down. There have been no reports of any casualties. The army had hit 92 targets across Gaza, she added.
The violence left Egyptian truce efforts in tatters, with Netanyahu immediately ordering his delegation back from Cairo. Israel has repeatedly refused to negotiate under fire.
“The rocket fire which broke the cease-fire also destroyed the foundation on which the talks in Cairo were based,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.
Most of the Palestinian negotiators, including delegation head Azzam al-Ahmad, also left Cairo.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed “profound regret at the breach of the cease-fire” and said it was working to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meanwhile landed in Qatar ahead of talks Thursday with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal that had been scheduled before the cease-fire collapsed.