Two Israeli women killed in rocket fires from Gaza
Rights group condemns Israeli violence, world urges calm
Gaza hit by 130 air strikes, militants launch more than 300 rockets
Israel and Hamas exchanged heavy fire yesterday, with at least 26 Palestinians killed in Gaza, in a dramatic escalation between the bitter foes sparked by unrest at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Nine children were among those killed in the blockaded Gaza Strip that is controlled by the Islamist movement and at least 125 people there were wounded, local health authorities said.
More than 300 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants towards Israel since Monday, with over 90 percent intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said. Two women in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon were killed, Eli Bin, head of the Magen David Ambulance service, told reporters. At least six Israelis have been injured.
Israel has responded with 130 strikes carried out by fighter jets and attack helicopters on military targets in the enclave, killing 15 commanders from Hamas, said Conricus.
More rockets were launched from the coastal enclave yesterday, as Hamas' armed wing the Qassam Brigades vowed to turn the southern Israeli community of Ashkelon into "a hell".
Defence Minister Benny Gantz authorised an army request to mobilise 5,000 reservists if necessary.
Since Israeli riot police clashed with large crowds of Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, nightly unrest around the Al-Aqsa compound in annexed east Jerusalem has left more than 700 Palestinians wounded, drawing international calls for de-escalation and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said "all sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down". He strongly condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas, saying they "need to stop immediately".
Diplomatic sources told AFP that Egypt and Qatar, who have mediated past Israeli-Hamas conflicts, were attempting to calm tensions.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned Israel's Gaza strikes as "indiscriminate and irresponsible ... and a miserable display of force at the expense of children's blood".
After Hamas rockets targeted Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas had "crossed a red line" and vowed that the Jewish state would "respond with force".