Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III speaks during the 82nd Airborne Division All American Memorial Ceremony on May 23, 2007, at Fort Bragg, NC. Stephanie Bruce

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on May 12 stressed the United States’ “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to defend itself amid a military conflict with Hamas, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

The statement comes as Israeli officials said that 16 members of Hamas’s armed wing were killed by airstrikes—coming after Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists fired numerous rockets into Israel.

Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby confirmed that Austin spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz on May 12.

“Austin conveyed the Department’s ironclad support for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people,” Kirby said.

Austin, meanwhile, “strongly condemned the launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorists groups that targeted Israeli civilians,” according to Kirby. “He reiterated the importance of all involved parties to take steps to restore calm.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 12 confirmed that the brigade commander for Gaza City was among senior members of the Islamist militant group who had been killed.

“This is just the beginning. We’ll hit them like they’ve never dreamed possible,” he said.

Soon after the announcement, a new rocket barrage was fired at the Israeli city of Ashdod, and Israeli media said the military was preparing for new barrages on the Tel Aviv area.

Hamas confirmed the death of the commander and of “other leaders and holy warriors” in a statement.

“The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said.

In Gaza, a multi-story residential building and a tower housing media outlets, including one linked to Hamas, collapsed after Israel warned occupants in advance to evacuate, and another structure was heavily damaged in the airstrikes.

On May 12, another tower in Gaza appears to have been leveled by Israeli forces. Iranian state-run media and Arabic news outlets reported that the Al Sharuk tower was destroyed.

At the same time, the Biden administration earlier on May 12 confirmed that it’s dispatching a top official on Israeli and Palestinian affairs to Jerusalem in a bid to deescalate the conflict—considered the worst in years.

Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, will “urge on my behalf, and the behalf of President Biden the de-escalation of violence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

“We are very focused on this. The United States remains committed to a two-state solution. This violence takes us further away from that goal,” Blinken said.