GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas on Wednesday warned that it planned to retaliate against any Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, after almost two weeks of nightly air strikes against the besieged coastal enclave.
The deputy head of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ahmad Bahr said in a rally in Gaza City on Wednesday afternoon that the messages sent by Netanyahu through the raids and threats reflected "confusion" among the Israeli leadership.
"Even though no party has announced responsibility for the disappearance of the three settlers," he said, "we say that we support and bless it, because it is the right of our people to do it for the country, the prisoners, and Jerusalem," he added.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the "kidnapping" of three Israeli youths from a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, and vowed to "crush" the movement.
Hamas, however, has denied any responsibility, although in the past it has supported the kidnapping of Israelis as a way to gain leverage for prisoner exchanges to free some of the more then 5,000 Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails.
Bahr said in his speech during the rally that Palestinian resistance is "legitimate," adding that security coordination by the Palestinian Authority with the Israeli occupation is "treason" and in violation of the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in 2011.
The Hamas leader predicted that the events occurring in the West Bank were the beginning of the launch of a "third Intifada."
Bahr's comments come 12 days after three Jewish settlers disappeared near Bethlehem, setting off a furious Israeli search campaign that has led to the detention of more than 500 Palestinians and the raiding of more than 1,200 homes and offices across the West Bank.
Six Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli forces during the campaign, and more than 120 have been injured.
Operation has 'deepened deterrence'
The Israeli military's Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adraee on Wednesday, meanwhile, acknowledged that the operation had hurt Palestinians who have nothing to do with the disappearance, but said that the Israeli army had succeeded in "deepening deterrence" and conveying a message that a "heavy toll will be paid for abduction of Israelis."
He also told Ma'an that Israel had no plans to curb the campaign during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of this week.
He said that the campaign would begin moving in a "different pattern" in the coming days, relying on information revealed through ongoing investigations and acting through sudden operations ground operations.
Adraee admitted that Hamas could potentially succeed in negotiating some sort of prisoner swap deal in exchange for the three, but the "toll will be re-imprisonment of those who were freed as part of the Shalit deal."
In addition, he said, Hamas would sustain "painful" strikes as its organizations and institutions in the West Bank will be shut down and its leaders will be detained.
With regards to the possibility of acquiring permits to allow Palestinians into Israel during Ramadan, Adraee said the Israeli military leaders would submit suggestions Wednesday to the Israeli cabinet. "There could be permits given from which Hebron area may be excluded."
He added, "Ramadan in 2014 seems to be different from that of 2013 when hundreds of thousands of worshipers from the West Bank were able to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque every Friday," he added.