The number of people killed is growing on both sides of the conflict as Israelis and Palestinians step up attacks in and around the Gaza Strip. The violence is the most intense the two neighbors have seen for years.
Palestinians and Israelis found themselves caught up in an escalating conflict on Thursday following the death of top Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabaari in a targeted Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip the day before.
Three Israeli civilians were killed on Thursday when a rocket fired from Gaza hit an apartment building in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi. At least four others, including an eight-month-old baby, were injured in the attack.
They were the first Israeli casualties following Jaabari's assassination. At least 13 Palestinians have died since Wednesday in an intense spate of Israeli air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The Safa news agency of Hamas said the dead included four civilians, among them women and children.
Israel said it had attacked more than 200 targets in Gaza from the air and sea since Wednesday, while Hamas said it had launched more than 120 rockets at Israel.
Mixed international response
Several countries around the world have voiced their condemnation of the intensifying violence.
Israel's neighbor, Egypt, vehemently criticized the Israeli offensive as "unacceptable" and recalled its ambassador from Israel. Egyptian state media reported that Foreign Minister Kamel Amr had called on the United States to intervene and end the "Israeli aggression."
The United States, for its part, has condemned the Palestinian Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
"There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Russia on Thursday termed Israel's reaction to Palestinian rocket attacks "disproportionate," while at the same time calling on Palestinian militants to cease launching the missiles at Israel.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday to discuss the conflict, but took no action apart from calling for an end to the violence.
Funeral held for commander
Meanwhile, thousands gathered in Gaza City for Jaabari's funeral, where Hamas supporters fired guns in celebration of the Israeli deaths. Hamas has warned that the killing of its top commander would "open the gates of hell" for Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister said on Wednesday that the Gaza operation could be stepped up in an effort to prevent Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, which have become increasingly intense in recent months. The Israeli military has not ruled out a ground offensive if violence continues.
Israeli last carried out a land invasion of the Gaza Strip from 2008 to 2009. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died during the conflict, which started with a week of air attacks and shelling.
tj/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)