As of midday, at least 65 rockets had be launched at Israel in the last three days, with the Israelis carrying out 14 aerial strikes on targets in Gaza, according to Israeli army figures.
One airstrike Wednesday targeted two militants, Aleb Armilat and Mohammed Rashdan, whom Israeli military statements identified as members of a radical organization affiliated with Global Jihad. The military said the two had been involved in an attack along Israel's border with Egypt earlier this week and were planning another.
Rashdan was injured in the airstrike and Armilat killed, bringing to at least six the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza in recent days. Four members of Israeli security forces have been injured, and an Israeli contractor was killed in Monday's attack along the Egyptian border.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland strongly condemned the rocket fire into Israel, calling the targeting of civilians "cowardly acts." The parties should exercise restraint to avoid further escalation, she said Tuesday.
During past eruptions of violence, Egypt has had a moderating effect on Gaza's ruling Hamas movement and repeatedly brokered informal cease-fires. Despite Israeli concern over the increasing power of Islamists in that country and how that might influence Hamas and Gaza, Egypt retains this role and, according to its envoy to Ramallah, is making efforts to restore the calm and prevent further deterioration of the situation.
"It's not very important who fires last," Giora Eiland, a retired general and former head of Israel's National Security Council, told Israeli radio. Eiland said the current cycle of violence probably would run its course within a couple of days because neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in an escalation at the moment. Although Israel might be forced to stage a wider operation in the future, Eiland said he wasn't convinced that point had come yet.
Amir Peretz, a former Israeli defense minister and a resident of Sderot, a town frequently targeted by Palestinian rockets, urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Particularly at this time, Israel must not allow Hamas to exclusively dictate Israel's relations with the Arab world," he told local media.
Earlier this week, Abbas declared the peace process "clinically dead" and said Israel's settlement policy was destroying the two-state solution.
Right now, the peace process "is difficult and challenging," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a representative for the Middle East Quartet, said this week during an international conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres. "But I do believe a lasting peace -- a secure state of Israel and a viable state of Palestine -- is a profound strategic Israeli interest as well as that of the world."
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: An Israeli paramedic surveys the damage at Saad Kibbutz in southern Israel, caused by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Credit: David Buimovitch / AFP/Getty Images