JERUSALEM – Gaza militants, reeling from an Israeli military operation, have been pounding southern Israel with rocket fire Thursday, killing three Israelis. It’s the second day of intense Israeli air raids on militant targets, and Israel is threatening to invade the Palestinian territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday that Israel could no longer stand repeated attacks on its southern towns. He said that Israel has “made it clear” it won’t tolerate continued rocket fire on its civilians.
Earlier, Netanyahu had declared, “If there is a need, the military is prepared to expand the operation. We will continue to do everything to protect our citizens.”
The casualties were the first since Israel launched its operation on Wednesday with the assassination of Hamas’ top military commander.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said two Israeli men and a woman died after a rocket struck their four-story apartment building in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi. A 4-year-old boy was seriously wounded in and two babies lightly wounded in the strike.
Since the Israeli operation started, a total of 13 Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed and more than 100 people wounded, according to Palestinian medical officials. Among the dead were two children.
Israelis and Gazans both holed up in their homes Thursday in anticipation of heavy fighting on the second day of the military’s campaign.
Israeli aircraft, tanks and naval gunboats pounded the Hamas-ruled coastal strip and rocket salvoes thudded into southern Israel.
The operation, launched after days of rocket fire from the coastal territory, was Israel’s most intense attack on Gaza since its full-scale war there four years ago.
The Israeli military said the some 20 airstrikes were part of a major offensive dubbed “Operation Pillar of Defense,” according to a Reuters report.
Israeli officials said Wednesday that a ground invasion was a strong possibility in the coming days if Hamas didn’t rein in the rocket fire. Mid-morning Thursday, there was no sign such an invasion might be beginning. But the Israeli military was cleared to call up special reserve units — a sign the operation might broaden.
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