Israel’s armed forces and Palestinian militants exchanged rocket fire on Tuesday as days of fighting centered around one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims, Jews and Christians snowballed into another deadly flare-up in a decades-long conflict. The bloodshed was likely to get worse, as both sides indicated that they would escalate their attacks.
The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip, a tiny parcel of land run by the Hamas group but with borders strictly controlled by Israel, said on Tuesday that at least 26 people had been killed by Israeli airstrikes in the territory, including nine children.
Israel’s military said it was targeting Hamas militant leaders in retaliation for a steady volley of rockets fired from Gaza at Israel — more than 250 in just a day, and climbing fast.
A new salvo of rockets hit homes in the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod on Tuesday, but many of the projectiles launched either fell short and landed in Gaza or were intercepted by Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” missile defense system.
Israeli emergency response officials said two women were killed in the barrage on Tuesday afternoon, and at least one more was left in critical condition. Earlier authorities said at least 10 people had been treated for unspecified injuries in Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, claimed to have launched 137 rockets at the two southern Israeli cities within just five minutes on Tuesday afternoon, adding in a menacing message online: “We’ve still got more up our sleeves.”
The Israeli military’s response to the rocket attacks began swiftly on Monday, and officials said 15 militants were killed in the air and drone strikes carried out in Gaza.
Netanyahu: Gaza strikes “will be increased”
On Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who is mired in both legal and political dogfights with domestic foes — said that following “a situational assessment, it was decided that both the might of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks will be increased” on Gaza.
“Hamas will receive blows now that it didn’t expect,” the premier warned.
His government has blamed the civilian deaths in the Palestinian territory on Hamas, which it regularly accuses of using human shields.