Israel and Hamas widened their increasingly deadly conflict over Gaza Thursday, as a militant rocket killed three civilians in an apartment block in this small southern town. The deaths were likely to lead Israel to intensify its military offensive on Gaza, now in its second day of airstrikes.
In Gaza, the Palestinian death toll rose to 11 as Israel struck what the military described as medium- and long-range rocket and infrastructure sites and rocket-launching squads. The military said it had dispersed leaflets over Gaza warning residents to stay away from Hamas operatives and facilities, suggesting that more was to come.
The regional perils of the situation sharpened, meanwhile, as President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt warned on Thursday that his country stood by the Palestinians against what he termed Israeli aggression, echoing similar condemnation on Wednesday.
“The Egyptian people, leadership...all of Egypt is standing with all its resources to stop this assault, to prevent the killing and bloodshed of Palestinians,” Morsi said in nationally-televised remarks. He also instructed his prime minister to lead a delegation to Gaza on Friday and contacted President Obama to discuss strategies to “stop...the bloodshed and aggression”.
Thursday’s deaths in Kiryat Malachi were the first casualties on the Israeli side since Israel launched its assault on Gaza, the most ferocious in four years, in response to persistent Palestinian rocket fire.
Southern Israel has been hit by more than 750 rockets from Gaza this year that have caused injuries. On Thursday, a rocket smashed into the top floor of an apartment in Kiryat Malachi, about 15 miles north of Gaza.
Two men and one woman were killed, according to witnesses at the scene. A baby was among the injured and several Israelis were hospitalized with shrapnel wounds after rockets hit other southern cities and towns.
It was the first time that a building in Kiryat Malachi had been struck and the farthest north a projectile had landed in the current violence. With schools closed after Wednesday’s turmoil, residents said, many people had stayed home with their children.
Residents said people living on lower floors of the apartment had taken cover in stairwells, as police urged residents to do when they heard warning sirens, but those on the top floor apparently had not.
In Gaza, three militants were killed when Israeli missiles hit their motorcycles in Khan Younis town.
Five other civilians, including a baby and a 7-year-old girl, have been killed in Gaza since the operation began and at least 70 have been wounded, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.