Israeli airstrikes kill 3 in Gaza (Second Lead)

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Deir al-Balah (Gaza) : Three people were killed in the Gaza Strip after Israel launched 140 airstrikes in response to more than 150 rockets that had allegedly been fired by Palestinian militias, raising tension in the embattled enclave, officials said on Thursday.

A 23-year-old pregnant woman and her toddler were killed and her husband was wounded when an Israeli missile fell on their house in Deir al-Balah, Gaza's Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qedra was cited as saying by Efe news.

"I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel and particularly by today's multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel," said Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

"I have been warning that the humanitarian, security and political crisis in Gaza risks a devastating conflict that nobody wants," Mladenov said.

Another Palestinian, a 30-year-old militant of the Islamist movement Hamas, was killed after Israeli airstrikes hit his vehicle a few hours earlier.

"The strike was conducted in response to the rockets launched from Gaza at Israel throughout the night," the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) tweeted. "We are determined to secure the safety of Israelis, is on high alert and prepared for a variety of scenarios. Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences for the ongoing events," it added.

The Israeli forces claimed that 150 rockets had been launched towards them since Wednesday -- 80 of them since midnight -- of which 25 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile shield system.

Most of the remaining projectiles fell in open areas, however several of them hit inhabited areas and injured at least six people.

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, said the government was not eager for war nor an extension of the confrontation but was also firm that no concessions would be made to Hamas.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu was set to call a Cabinet meeting on Thursday to assess the crisis.