More than 70 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza have hit southern Israel in the last 24 hours, striking several homes and injuring three.
Four Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza sites that the Israeli military said are used for launching rockets at Israel. The Palestinian Ma'an news agency has identified the dead as members of organizations that are considered terrorist by Israel and the United States.
Between late Tuesday night and late Wednesday morning, the Israeli airstrikes hit four of what the Israel Defense Forces said were rocket-launching sites, as well as a tunnel used for smuggling terrorists into Israel, according to statements issued by the IDF.
In two radio interviews, Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not rule out sending tanks and troops into Gaza to quell the attacks.
The rockets and mortar shells began falling on southern Israeli communities late Tuesday night and continued through the next day. At least five private homes were hit directly. Three Thai workers were injured, two of them seriously.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted seven rockets aimed at Ashkelon.
Schools have been closed in much of southern Israel, with the Home Front Command telling residents living within 10 miles of Gaza to remain near bomb shelters.
Barak told Army Radio, "If we have no choice and the fire will continue, then they clearly will be hit harder and nothing is out of the question."
And in an interview with Israel Radio, he said, "If we need a ground operation, there will be a ground operation. We will do whatever necessary to stop this."
Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, and the Popular Resistance Committees both have claimed responsibility for the rockets.
The escalation on Israel's southern border follows a border attack Tuesday on an Israeli patrol near the security fence with Gaza that seriously injured an Israeli soldier.