Tel Aviv has got its first taste of what southern residents have been feeling for a long time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday in a televised statement, adding that the terrorists must pay a price for the escalation.

"This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay," Barak stated.

"Today in Tel Aviv we are feeling what over a million residents of the South have been feeling for a long time," he said. "I hope that we will achieve our goals of creating long-term quiet."

He added: "We must allow the IDF to complete its missions."

Earlier on Thursday, Barak hinted that Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza-based terrorists could be a lengthy battle.

"We're determined to return the situation [in the South] to its previous, quiet state, and will do that with whatever is demanded to accomplish that. This is just the beginning."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel will do whatever necessary to end rocket and missile attacks on Israeli civilians, speaking Thursday at a press conference.

Following a 24-hour period in which the IDF hit nearly 200 targets in Gaza as part of Operation Pillar of Defense, Netanyahu said he hoped Hamas "got the message" and added Israel is "prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people."

Seemingly addressing an international audience, the prime minister said "there is no moral symmetry equivalent between Israel and Hamas and the terrorist groups in Gaza."


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President Shimon Peres on Thursday also expressed support for the ongoing military operation in Gaza, saying "it was the right thing to do and it is being done correctly," Israel Radio reported.

Peres said that he knows of no other country that would have shown so much restraint in the face of continual rocket fire from Gaza, and reiterated that Israel must protect its citizens.

He added that the IDF was doing everything in its power to limit civilian casualties in the Strip.

Peres concluded that Ahmed Jabari, the former chief of Hamas' military wing who was killed in an Israeli airstrike Wednesday, was most responsible for the murder and kidnapping of innocent Israelis.

Earlier Thursday, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz and Labor head Shelly Yacimovich reiterated their support for Operation Pillar of Defense.

Mofaz said that Israel must pursue terrorists in Gaza in order to make them feel persecuted, according to Israel Radio, but recommended against the government launching a ground operation, saying it would be possible to reestablish the IDF's deterrence without one.

Mofaz warned that "it is always known how a ground operation starts, but not always how it ends."

For her part, Yacimovich reportedly said that after the Gaza operation is completed, Israel will have to work with the international community, particularly the United States, in order to reach an understanding that will allow residents of the South to live in security.

She also stressed that all measures should be taken to maintain relations with Egypt.

National Union MK Aryeh Eldad also weighed in, calling on the government to cut off its supply of electricity and water to Gaza, saying that "until Israel goes into Gaza and cuts off its supply lines, Israelis will continue to suffer."

Eldad also said that Israel "should have killed [Ahmed] Jabari the moment Gilad Schalit crossed the border back into Israel."

"We need to finally let the IDF win."

Meanwhile, public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein was scheduled to take dozens of foreign journalists on a tour of southern communities under threat from rocket fire from Gaza on Thursday.

Edelstein was scheduled to brief the media members from areas where rockets have fallen in Kiryat Malachi, Ashkelon and Beersheba.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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