REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Civilian casualties from ongoing violence between the Israeli military and militants based in the Gaza Strip rose Monday as three Palestinians -- a 15-year-old boy on his way to school and a father and daughter walking in the street -- were killed by apparent Israeli airstrikes, Palestinian officials said.
Militants from Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, hitting an empty kindergarten and damaging a residential structure in the city of Ashdod, injuring an elderly woman and another person with shrapnel. At least eight others were treated for hysteria, officials said. No Israelis have been killed.
Militants also expanded their targets slightly farther north toward Tel Aviv.
Although Egyptian mediators were working toward a cease-fire agreement, both sides predicted the violence would probably continue for a few more days. It marks the worst flare-up along the Israel-Gaza border since August.
The three civilian deaths Monday, combined with the killing of two militants, brought the Palestinian death toll to 23 since Friday. Dozens of Palestinians have been injured, officials said. [Updated March 12, 1:20 p.m.: Officials later said two more militants had died, bringing the toll since Friday to 25.]
Mohamed Hasoumi, 65, and daughter Fayza were killed by an Israeli missile as they walked in the town of Jabaliya near an area used by militants to fire rockets, Palestinian officials said. Nayif Shaaban Karmout, 15, was killed on his way to school when he was hit by shrapnel, Palestinian media reported.
Israeli military officials denied they carried out any operation near the area where the boy was killed.
Israeli cities near the Gaza border remained on high alert, with schools and many businesses closed and residents staying close to bomb shelters.
Some Israeli leaders called for the military to take stronger action to halt the rocket fire. The latest round began Friday after Israeli forces killed a top militant leader in Gaza as he was driving in his car with an aide.
“The situation is intolerable,” Yitzhak Aharonovitch, minister of public security, said Monday on Israel Radio. “One million Israelis cannot be confined to bomb shelters for four days. Israel must strike with a heavy blow so that once and for all rocket fire to Israel stops.”
But experts said a ground operation in Gaza was unlikely at this time given Egyptian opposition to such a move. Also, a ground assault could divert international attention from Iran’s nuclear program and renew pressure on Israel to make progress on Palestinian peace talks.
-- Edmund Sanders. Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.
Photo: Israeli police officers on a site after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip hit the city of Ashdod in southern Israel on Monday. Credit: Ariel Schalit / Associated Press