JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel's conflict with Hamas intensified after three Israelis were killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit their apartment in southern Israel.
The rocket that struck the Kiryat Malachi apartment on Thursday morning — one of at least 140 rockets fired from Gaza since the assassination late Wednesday afternoon of the Hamas military chief in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari — also injured a baby girl and a 4-year-old boy. A second building in Kiryat Malachi also was hit.
Rockets rained down on communities in southern Israel overnight into Thursday. A school in Ofakim and a home in Ashdod were hit, along with a factory near Ashkelon.
Some 90 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, according to the IDF.
Overnight Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces bombed about 100 medium- and long-range rocket launch and infrastructure sites throughout Gaza, according to the IDF spokesman.
"This has significantly damaged the rocket launch capabilities and munitions warehouses operated by Hamas and other terror organizations," the IDF said in a statement. "The aim of targeting these sites is to impair the rocket launching capability of terror organizations in the Gaza strip and damage their further build-up."
Israel's Air Force also bombed several rocket launching squads as they prepared to fire rockets toward southern Israel, according to the IDF.
Fifteen Palestinians have been killed and more than 100 injured in the Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Thursday.
Israel also has mobilized several infantry units and called up reserve troops. Israel last entered Gaza with ground troops during the monthlong Gaza war that began in December 2008.
The strike on Jabari followed four days of rocket fire from Gaza terrorist groups on southern Israel. More than 150 rockets reportedly were fired from Gaza during that time, causing damage to homes and factories.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin as saying that hours before he was assassinated, Jabari had received a draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, and that senior Israeli officials were aware of the draft.
On Thursday morning, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Israel's ramped-up Gaza operation at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. The envoys of Israel and the Palestinians offered presentations at the meeting.
The Security Council failed to endorse a plan of action, agreeing only to issue a statement saying that the emergency meeting took place.
"We have demonstrated maximum restraint for years, but the Israeli government has a right and a duty to respond to these attacks,” Israeli U.N. envoy Ron Prosor told the council. “Israel will not play Russian roulette with the lives of our citizens.”
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour referred to "Israel’s malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population.”
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, defended Israel's right to defend itself. On Wednesday night, President Obama called Netanyahu and voiced support for Israel's right to self defense while urging Netanyahu to avoid civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel over the Gaza strikes. Israel's ambassador to Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, also was called back to Jerusalem out of fear for his safety in the face of expected protests.The embassy staff was evacuated Wednesday.
Israel's Security Cabinet on Wednesday night authorized the call-up of reserve units, per the discretion of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The Cabinet authorized the IDF to "continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel."
"Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law," the directive said.
In a statement issued Thursday evening to the foreign press, Netanyahu said that world leaders have an understanding of Israel’s need and right to defend itself.
"There is no moral symmetry; there is no moral equivalence, between Israel and the terrorist organizations in Gaza," Netanyahu said. "The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians, and they hide behind Palestinian civilians. And by contrast, Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties. I saw today a picture of a bleeding Israeli baby. This picture says it all: Hamas deliberately targets our children, and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children. Despite this reality, and it’s a very difficult reality, Israel will continue to do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties."
The current operation in Gaza has been dubbed Pillar of Defense, a reference to the cloud that followed the Israelites in the desert according to the Bible. The pillar of clouds shielded and protected the Israelites.