MORE than 80 rockets were fired into southern Israel last night, the country’s army said, with Hamas later claiming responsibility for the attack.
It was reported that up to 30 rockets were fired in a half-hour period as Palestinian militants vowed revenge for Israeli air strikes.
It came as three Israeli suspects in the vigilante-style killing of a Palestinian boy who was abducted and burned to death last week confessed to the crime. They have been re-enacting the incident for the authorities.
Tensions continued to rise yesterday along Israel’s volatile front with the Gaza Strip.
Israeli air strikes, said to be in response to persistent rocket fire, killed at least eight Palestinian militants, and the Hamas group swore revenge, saying “the enemy will pay a tremendous price”.
The region has been on edge for weeks since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank.
Last week, hours after the Israeli youths had been buried, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted from outside his home in east Jerusalem, and his charred remains were found shortly afterwards in a forest.
His death triggered days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel.
The Jewish suspects have not been identified, and they remained in custody last night.
Palestinians say Mohammed’s death was a revenge killing.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned Mohammed’s death and tried to calm the public. His office said he had called the boy’s father to express his condolences.
“I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son,” Mr Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
“We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. We denounce all brutal behaviour; the murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being.”
The boy’s father, Hussein Abu Khdeir, said he was not certain he had spoken to Mr Netanyahu.
“Maybe he called, I don’t know,” he said. “Tons of people called me this morning to apologise for what happened to my son. Some of them were crying. But I don’t know if Netanyahu was one of them.”
The discovery on Sunday that a group of Jewish males – some of them minors – were suspects in the grisly death of Mohammed, who was still alive when he was set on fire, set off nationwide anguish in Israel.
It raised questions about whether the charged atmosphere in the country had contributed to the killing.
“Shame. That is the word,” wrote Sima Kadmon, a commentator in the mass daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot. “For the murder of Mohammed, there is shame. Immense shame and disgrace over the fact that such a thing happened among us, we who are so certain that it could not happen among us, that only Arabs can be so cruel.”
Israel’s president, Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, and the man who is to succeed him later this month, Reuven Rivlin, co-wrote a front-page article in the same newspaper.
“In the state of Israel, there is no difference between blood and blood,” the two men wrote. “The choice is in our hands: to give in to the destructive worldview posed to us by the racists and the extremists, or to fight it unconditionally; to give in to wild and vicious Muslim or Jewish terrorists – or to put an end to it by all means possible.”
In recent weeks, militants in Gaza are said to have fired more than 200 rockets and mortars towards Israel.