Rockets and missiles from Gaza killed three civilians in Israel while Israeli air strikes and artillery fire killed seven Palestinian militants in surging cross-border fighting on Sunday, according to Gazan officials and the Israeli military.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he ordered the military to continue “massive strikes” against Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and Islamic Jihad, in the most serious border clashes since a spate of fighting in November.

Israel’s military said more than 600 rockets and other projectiles — over 150 of them intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system — have been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday.

It said it attacked more than 260 targets belonging to Gaza militant groups. Gaza officials said Israeli air strikes and artillery fire killed 16 people including five civilians since Friday.

A rocket that hit a house in Ashkelon in southern Israel early Sunday killed a 58-year-old man, police said. Another rocket strike in Ashkelon killed a factory worker, a hospital official said. The military said a third civilian was killed by an anti-tank missile fired at his car from Gaza near the border.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad identified six fighters killed in Israeli strikes.

In what it said was a separate, targeted attack, Israel’s military killed Hamedal-Khoudary, a Hamas commander. The military said he was responsible for transferring funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza. Hamas confirmed al-Khoudary had been killed.

The attack on his car was the first such killing by Israel of a top militant since the war five years ago. Israel had suspended what Palestinians call an assassination policy in a bid to lower tensions.

An Israeli hospital official, Dr. Ron Lobel, deputy director of the Barzilai Medical Center in the city of Ashkelon, on Sunday said a total of three people have been killed from Palestinian rocket fire in the past 24 hours.

Israel’s military said many of the rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system before they could strike, adding that it hit some 220 targets belonging to Gaza militant groups.

Police said one of the rockets from Gaza hit a house in Ashkelon, killing a 58-year-old man early Sunday. Israeli media reported two others were killed later Sunday in a rocket strike on a factory in the city.

A Palestinian man checks his clothing store that was damaged in Israeli airstrikes. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)


“This morning I instructed the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and I also instructed that forces around the Gaza Strip be stepped up with tank, artillery and infantry forces,” Netanyahu, who doubles as Israeli defence minister, said in a statement.

The sounds of sirens and explosions reverberated on both sides of the frontier, fraying nerves and keeping schools closed.

The latest round of violence began two days ago when an Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt aimed at ending violence and easing blockaded Gaza’s economic hardship.

This time, Israeli strategic affairs analysts said, both Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants appeared to believe they had some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday.

Israeli bombings in Gaza destroyed two multi-storey structures on Saturday. Witnesses said the Israeli military had warned people inside to evacuate the buildings, which it alleged housed Hamas security facilities, before they were hit.

Saeed Al-Nakhala, owner of a clothing store in one of the buildings, said he had had no time to save his merchandise.

“I was together with my son in the shop, there was a big noise and then another and people started to run. We left everything behind and escaped,” said Nakhala.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s West Bank-based rival.