JERUSALEM — Militants in the Gaza Strip unleashed dozens of rockets on southern Israel late Monday, setting off air raid sirens and forcing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stay indoors as the military rushed more forces to the border and warned that even heavier fighting looked likely.
The latest violence came as Israel pressed forward with its investigation of six Jewish youths suspected of abducting and killing a Palestinian teenager, and Israeli leaders sought to calm an emotional debate over whether the country’s politically charged atmosphere led to the gruesome crime. An Israeli official said three of the youths had confessed to the attack.
Tensions have been high since three Israeli teenagers kidnapped June 12 in the West Bank were later found dead, followed by last week’s slaying of the Palestinian youth in what many suspect was a revenge attack. Throughout the unrest, Gaza militants have launched more than 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, including close to 100 on Monday alone.
Israel has responded with dozens of airstrikes, but has not been able to halt the attacks. Eight Palestinian militants were killed in fighting Monday, the highest death toll yet.
Dozens of rockets were fired Monday, including 40 launched in a single hour after nightfall, setting off air raid sirens up to 50 miles from Gaza, the military said.
Twelve rockets were intercepted by rocket-defense batteries, it added, while the others landed in open areas. It was the deepest penetration of rocket strikes in the current round of fighting and raised the likelihood of an even tougher Israeli response.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, a senior military official, gave a special interview in Arabic to Al-Jazeera, warning that Hamas would bear the consequences for the escalation.
Among the dead were six Hamas militants who Israel said were killed in an accidental blast in a tunnel packed with explosives. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, vowed revenge, saying “the enemy will pay a tremendous price.”