Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of "deeper action" to prevent attacks from Gaza after Israeli civilians came under a massive Hamas bombardment yesterday.
Ignoring pleas by the Emir of Qatar, who ended a historic visit to Gaza hours earlier, to reduce violence, Hamas said it had joined in launching the rocket barrage – the biggest violation of a tense Israel-Gaza ceasefire in many months.
By mid-afternoon, Palestinian groups had fired more than 70 rockets at Israeli towns and villages bordering the Gaza Strip.
Four Palestinian militants were killed and four people in Israel were injured in two days of violence that began on Tuesday when an Israeli army officer was badly wounded by a bomb planted on the Israel-Gaza border fence. Three foreign workers were injured when a rocket hit an Israeli village near Gaza yesterday. The Palestinians were killed and eight people injured in Israeli air strikes against rocket-launching crews and other militant targets.
The violence erupted as more than 1,000 US troops began the largest ever joint Israel-US military exercise in air defence. "We neither chose nor initiated this escalation but if it continues we are prepared for much more extensive and deeper action," Mr Netanyahu said as he toured an Iron Dome defence battery near Ashkelon. "Whoever intends to attack Israeli citizens needs to know that he will bear the consequences."
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that if the barrage continued he would not rule out a ground invasion like the one that killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in late 2008-early 2009.
"Hamas will receive its punishment for what has happened here," he told Israel Radio. "We will do whatever necessary to stop this," .
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for the "unjustified killing of activists".