Israel's armed forces and Palestinian militants exchanged rocket fire on Tuesday as days of fighting centered around one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims, Jews and Christians snowballed into anotherin a decades-long . The bloodshed was likely to get worse, as both sides indicated that they would escalate their attacks.
NOTE: This article contains images of death that some readers may find disturbing.
The Health Ministry in the, a tiny parcel of land run by the Hamas group but with borders strictly controlled by Israel, said on Tuesday that at least 26 people had been killed by Israeli airstrikes in the territory, including nine children.
Israel's military said it was targeting Hamas militant leaders in retaliation for a steady volley of rockets fired from Gaza at Israel — more than 400, and climbing fast.
A salvo of rockets hit homes in the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod on Tuesday, but many of the projectiles launched either fell short and landed in Gaza or were intercepted by Israel's advanced "" missile defense system.
Israeli emergency response officials said two women were killed in the barrage on Tuesday afternoon and at least one more was left in critical condition. Earlier authorities said at least 10 people had been treated for unspecified injuries in Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, claimed to have launched 137 rockets at the two southern Israeli cities within just five minutes on Tuesday, adding in a menacing message online: "We've still got more up our sleeves."
The Israeli military's response to the rocket attacks began swiftly on Monday, and officials said 15 militants were killed in the air and drone strikes carried out in Gaza.
Netanyahu: Gaza strikes "will be increased"
On Tuesday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who is mired in bothand dogfights with domestic foes — said that following "a situational assessment, it was decided that both the might of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks will be increased" on Gaza.
"Hamas will receive blows now that it didn't expect," the premier warned.
His government has blamed the civilian deaths in the Palestinian territory on Hamas, which it regularly accuses of using human shields.
The al-Qassam Brigades said on Tuesday that Israel had hit "a target where our mujahideen were present amid measures undertaken by the group to raise our readiness to repel the aggression." It said some of its fighters were killed and others were missing following the strike.
Islamic Jihad, another one of the main Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, said two of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes. Members of the group told the AFP news agency that Israeli missiles also "wounded eight people, including a woman and her two children," as they slammed into a residential area in crowded Gaza City, killing the commanders.
There were calls for calm overnight, with the U.S. and the U.K. condemning the Palestinian rocket attacks in particular and the United Nations voicing "serious concern" over the escalation in general.
Confrontations between Israeli security forces and protesters in Jerusalem have been escalating for weeks. The clashes started at the beginning of Ramadan, almost a month ago, when Israeli police put up barriers to stop people sitting in the Damascus Gate plaza, a popular gathering area during Ramadan. Young Palestinians protested what they saw as Israeli authorities disrupting their religious and social traditions.
The tension escalated when Israel imposed a 10,000-person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, turning away tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Another simmering dispute has also fueled Palestinian anger: Efforts by Jewish Israeli settlers to force the eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, to allow Jewish settlers to move in.
The protests erupted into serious violence between protesters and police over the weekend, and then on Monday it boiled over.
Israel said that more than 30 police officers were wounded in clashes around the revered al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem's Old City, on Monday. The Palestinian Red Crescent said more than 700 civilians, many of whom were at the mosque to pray, were injured as Israeli police raided the holy site.
Amid the ongoing exchange of rocket fire, new protests and riots erupted in other major Israeli cities overnight, with Arab Israelis clashing with security forces in Haifa and Lod. Jewish-owned property was damaged and burned as the sectarian unrest bubbled up across Israel's cities in a way it hasn't done for years.
CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer, Michal Ben-Gal and Khaled Wassef contributed to this report.
for more features.