An Israeli air strike has killed three senior Hamas military commanders in the Gaza strip on Thursday in an assault that was launched only moments before the Palestinian militants were going to launch one of its rockets into Israeli side, the Israeli Defense Force has said.
It is not clear if the 'averted' Hamas attack was the one which was purportedly planned on the airport in Tel Aviv, but the incident comes hours after Hamas warned airlines to avoid flying to Israel.
"Moments ago, 6 Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists that were about to launch rockets at Israel were targeted. A hit was confirmed," the IDF said in its official Twitter feed.
Among those dead in the attack near the southern town of Rafah were Mohammed Abu Shamala, Mohammed Barhoum and Raed al-Attar, various news sources have confirmed. The killing of the high-profile Hamas leaders comes just a day after the organisation's military chief Mohammed Deif reportedly survived a strike that killed his wife and child.
A military spokeswoman said aircraft carried out 20 attacks in Gaza on Thursday alone, but refused to give further details, according to Reuters.
The renewed scene of carnage and bloodshed in the war-torn Gaza Strip comes after Egyptian-mediated talks to end weeks of deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas collapsed on Tuesday, triggering a new wave of violence after 10 days of relative calm.
Although the IDF hasn't been clear on where exactly the militants' were thought to be planning an attack, but the assault seems to be a counter measure to avert an impending major attack, the IDF has indicated. The death of the three leaders comes hours after the armed wing of Hamas warned foreign airlines from flying into Tel Aviv, threatening to launch an attack on its airport.
Until earlier on Thursday, local media were reporting that it was business as usual at Ben Gurion airport even as rockets continue to strike the south of Israel and Hamas' threats loomed large with the militants saying the airport was supposed to be the "target of attack" on Thursday as a response to "the Israeli aggression."
As negotiations in Cairo unravelled and hope of any durable ceasefire collapsed, the six-week war spiralled into an unprecedented chaos and bloodshed on Wednesday.
Thursday's strike on Rafah demolished a four-storey building and dozens of people were missing, reports suggested. The three commanders killed were key members operating essential militant activities including smuggling, tunnel construction and capturing the Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, the BBC has noted.