JERUSALEM, July 3 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli Air Force attacked several Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, reportedly killing a Palestinian militant.
An army spokeswoman in Tel Aviv neither confirmed nor denied casualties in the strike, only saying aircraft flew sorties over the coastal enclave "to deter" rocket-launching crews.
The airstrikes came on the heels of a heavy barrage of over 20 rockets and mortars slamming into western Negev communities since midnight. The continuous cross-border violence has made Israel contemplate a large-scale military action to quell the rocket fire, including a ground operation in Gaza.
Earlier on Thursday, three projectiles hit residential buildings in the Israeli town of Sderot, among which was an apartment that serves as a private nursery school. Rockets fired overnight knocked out electricity in some parts of the town.
Most other projectiles fired on Thursday hit open areas, causing no injuries. Two rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system and some fell short and landed in Gaza.
Violence along the Israel-Gaza border has steadily escalated since the abduction and brutal killing of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank on June 12. Israel has blamed Islamic militant group Hamas for the abduction, and arrested hundreds of its members during an 18-day manhunt for the kidnappers and the youths.
Israeli defense officials speculated that Hamas was behind many of the rockets fired on Thursday, apparently in retribution for the death of an Arab teen from east Jerusalem whose body was discovered in a forest early Wednesday. The Palestinians claimed that he was abducted and killed by Jewish extremists in revenge for the three killed Israeli teens.
An Israeli military spokesman said that "Israel seeks to de- escalate tensions and restore stability in the region; this is within our interest and Hamas' interest." He said forces had been shifted to the border to support defensive operations and to prepare for the possibility that Hamas "chooses not to de-escalate. "