JERUSALEM: Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says his country is "prepared to intensify" its response to rocket attacks from Gaza, after Israeli airstrikes killed seven Palestinians. Militants fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into southern Israel, injuring four Israeli civilians, while an attack on an Israeli military jeep left four soldiers wounded, one critically.
The latest escalation in what is threatening to develop into a major confrontation began when a tunnel packed with explosives under the Gaza-Israel border blew up late on Thursday.
"The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] is operating, and will operate, aggressively against the terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip, which are taking heavy blows from the IDF," Mr Netanyahu said after the government's weekly cabinet meeting. "The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us."
Among the Palestinian fatalities were five civilians, including three children, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said. "Four of these deaths and 38 of the injuries resulted from an Israeli attack on a football playground in al-Shojaiya neighbourhood east of Gaza city," it said.
Three shells fired by the IDF hit a house, killing another two civilians, the centre said, while in separate attacks, two militants were killed, businesses were damaged and homes destroyed.
Rockets fired by militants in Gaza landed in the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, as well as in the Eshkol Regional Council, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council and in Gan Yavne, the Israeli government confirmed.
Schools were closed in Gaza and southern Israel in response to the escalation in violence.
Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front took responsibility for the rocket fire, although the IDF said Hamas was the only party responsible for the escalation.
With an election due on January 22, Israeli politicians were quick to demand harsh retribution against Gaza.
The Transport Minister, Yisrael Katz, told Sunday's cabinet meeting Israel should completely cut itself off from Gaza, end the supply of electricity, water, food and gas to Gaza residents and "take out the leadership of Hamas in Gaza".
The Homefront Defence Minister, Avi Dichter, told Israel Hayom newspaper the election would not preclude the possibility of a large military operation in Gaza.