Jerusalem: Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, killing at least four Israelis and bringing life to a standstill across the region in the bloodiest fighting since a 2014 war.
As Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes, the Palestinian death toll rose to 23, including two pregnant women and two babies.
The bloodshed marked the first Israeli fatalities from rocket fire since the 2014 war. With Palestinian militants threatening to send rockets deeper into Israel and Israeli reinforcements massing near the Gaza frontier, the fighting showed no signs of slowing down.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent most of the day huddled with his Security Cabinet.
Late on Sunday, the Cabinet instructed the army to “continue its attacks and to stand by” for further orders. Israel also claimed to have killed a Hamas commander involved in transferring Iranian funds to the group.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Western-backed Palestinian forces in 2007. They have fought numerous smaller battles, most recently two rounds in March.
Later this week, Israel marks Memorial Day, one of the most solemn days of the year, and its festive Independence Day. Next week, Israel is to host the Eurovision song contest. Prolonged fighting could overshadow these important occasions and deter foreign tourists.
By Sunday, the Israeli military said militants had fired over 600 rockets, with the vast majority falling in open areas or intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket-defence system. But more than 30 rockets managed to strike urban areas, the army said.