KIRYAT MALACHI, Israel — Israel and Hamas widened their deadly conflict over Gaza on Thursday, as militants fired dozens of rockets — including one that killed three civilians in an apartment block in this small southern Israeli town — and two longer-range rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, causing no harm but triggering the first air raid warning there set off by incoming fire from Gaza. The death toll in Gaza from Israeli airstrikes rose to at least 16, including four children and a pregnant teenager.
The three Israeli deaths were the first since Israel’s military launched ferocious aerial assaults Wednesday to stop the chronic rocket fire from Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a cryptic statement that one of the two longer-range rockets aimed at Tel Aviv landed but did not hit the ground — meaning that it must have crashed into the Mediterranean Sea — and that the other appeared to have landed far outside the city. Exact locations were not specified.
But the Tel Aviv air raid warnings were an unnerving reminder of their vulnerability to an attack from Gaza, less than 40 miles away. They also underscored Israel’s stated reason for seeking to destroy the missile-launching sites in Gaza.
Ehud Barak, the minister of defense, said the targeting of Tel Aviv and the scope of the Palestinian rocket fire “represents an escalation, and there will be a price for that escalation that the other side will have to pay."
Southern Israel has been the target of more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza this year. The one that smashed into the top floor of an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi on Thursday killed two men and one woman, according to officials and witnesses.