Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Iran is behind the recent round of violence in Gaza, during a meeting with Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola in the Knesset Monday evening.

“Your visit here to Israel is taking place at a time when the focus of attention is on the terrorist attacks being perpetrated by elements which are backed and financed by Iran,” Netanyahu told Di Paola. “Dozens of rockets are hitting Israel. These terrorist attacks, by Islamic Jihad for example, underscore the magnitude of the danger that would be created if – Heaven forbid – a nuclear Iran would stand behind them. The world must be united in the face of the Iranian threat.”

Earlier Netanyahu said that Israel is ready to expand its operation against Gaza terrorists if necessary. Speaking to his Likud faction, Netanyahu said the IDF was “continuing to attack those who are trying to attack us.” 

In a televised broadcast from Gaza, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad expressed willingness to carry on fighting and vowed to strike targets farther to the north in Israel. “We will not accept a ceasefire that permits the blood of our people to flow,” he said.

“We warn the leaders of the enemy of the consequences of testing our patience. Our patience is limited and shall be turned into fire and destruction upon them,” said the masked spokesman, Abu Ahmed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday condemned rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Israel and called on Palestinian factions to stop the attacks.

“Let me also condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel,” Clinton told the UN Security Council during a meeting held to debate the violence in Syria. “We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these attacks.”

“We call on both sides, all sides, to make every effort to restore calm,” the chief US diplomat added.

The Quartet of Mideast peace mediators — the UN, US, European Union and Russia — met behind closed doors on the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was extremely worried by the situation in the Gaza Strip.

“I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel and once again civilians are paying a terrible price,” Ban told the UN Security Council. He said rocket attacks on Israeli civilians were “unacceptable” and urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni expressed support for the government’s actions in Gaza. In an interview for Army Radio, Livni said that Israel has to “regain its deterrence.”

Livni placed responsibility of the rocket attacks of the past four days on Hamas, arguing that they were in control of the region and had it in their power to stop the firing even if they weren’t performing it themselves.

Palestinians reported that two men were killed Monday night as a result of an Israeli airstrike, bringing the total Palestinian death toll to 24 people over the last four days.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office reported on a successful airstrike targeting  a launching squad in northern Gaza. Earlier a rocket hit a car in Ashdod, others fell in an open field Monday afternoon, the latest in a series of nearly 50 rockets to be fired at southern Israel from Gaza since morning. Several mortars fell near the Gaza border fence causing no damage. Iron Dome managed to intercept more than 25 rockets throughout the day.

Two Israelis were injured from shrapnel and five others were treated for shock in Ashdod; the rocket caused damage to a building and several cars, landing in a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood. The rocket managed to make it through Iron Dome’s protective shield.

Local police said residents had become negligent in following Home Front Command directives, putting their faith in Iron Dome’s capabilities. Home Front Command officer Maj. Gen (Res) Gil Shenhar said that while Iron Dome had proven itself, residents should use caution and follow instructions closely.

The Red Alert siren was heard in Rehovot as well and an explosion was heard in the area, the farthest north the rockets have reached since hostilities began Friday.

Israeli authorities again ordered schools closed in much of the south for Tuesday, as a ceasefire proved elusive.

Earlier Monday afternoon, three rockets were fired at Beersheba, with two being shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and one landing in an open area. No injuries or damage were reported.

Rockets were also reported in the area of the Sha’ar Henegev regional council and near Gedera.

The Israeli military said it carried out nine air attacks against rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility early Monday. Islamic Jihad said two of its terrorists were killed in two separate raids, one while on a motorcycle. 

A father and his daughter were killed in Gaza’s Beit Lahiya district early on Monday afternoon, Palestinian officials said.

A 16-year-old boy wearing a school uniform was reported killed when a group of five civilians was struck in another attack, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said. Israel denied it had conducted any air strikes in northern Gaza then, saying the last time it had struck the area was in the early hours of Monday. Journalists examinations confirmed the Israeli claims.

According to an AFP correspondent at the scene, there were no signs of any impact on the ground which could have been caused by a missile, with the most likely cause of his death being some kind of explosive device he was carrying.

Palestinian sources put the death toll in Gaza since the start of hostilities at 23.

Another strike in Gaza City wounded some two dozen people, including several children, health officials said. Israeli military sources said the air strike had targeted an ammunition store on the ground floor of a residential building; Palestinian sources said the strike had been aimed at the commander of a network of missile-firing cells.

A Palestinian boy walks through the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli air strike in Jabaliya, on Monday (photo credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana)

A Palestinian boy walks through the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli air strike in Jabaliya, on Monday (photo credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Six rockets were fired toward Ashdod in mid-morning — five of them intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and the sixth falling on open ground. Two missiles landed north of Beersheba, and there were alerts in Ashkelon. In late morning, two more rockets were fired at Gan Yavneh.

Three mortar bombs fired from Gaza fell short and damaged two trucks carrying equipment on the Palestinian side of the Karnei border crossing with Israel. Operations at the crossing, a major conduit of supplies into Gaza from Israel, were suspended but later resumed. The other main crossing into Gaza, the Erez Crossing, has also remained in operation during the hostilities, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

While the fighting has raged on, top Israel officials have made clear that they do not intend for the conflagration to expand beyond air strikes into a ground war. Nonetheless, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio that the possibility of a ground offensive did exist. He said Israel would keep targeting terrorists and their infrastructure in Gaza until terror groups internalized that it was not in their interests to fire at Israel.

Both Ya’alon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that if Hamas put an end to the rocket attacks and restored quiet from Gaza, then Israel would maintain quiet as well.

Hamas had not directly entered the fighting as of Monday afternoon, and has been criticized by Islamic Jihad for its failure to do so. A Hamas spokesman said on Monday morning that Hamas was in fact “very active” in numerous ways. Hamas has Fajr missiles that can reach as far as Tel Aviv, Israeli officials have said, but has thus far chosen not to use them.

The Palestinian Authority urged the United Nations to condemn Israel’s “war crimes”; Israel on Sunday had urged the UN to condemn the rocket attacks.

The violence, touched off by Israel’s killing of a top terrorist leader on Friday, has been the worst exchange of fire between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory in months. The fighting has killed over 20 Gazans, including at least 18 terrorists, seriously wounded two Israelis, and disrupted the lives of 1 million Israelis living in Gaza rocket range.

An Israeli soldier examines a house hit by a mortar shell on Saturday (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier examines a house hit by a mortar shell on Saturday (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The military said the air attacks came in response to continued rocket fire.  Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld reported that schools in the area were closed for a second day to avoid casualties; a day earlier, a rocket struck the courtyard of one of the empty schools in Beersheba. About a million Israelis are in range of the Gaza missiles

But although the violence shows no immediate signs of subsiding, both Hamas and Israel seem eager to avoid the kind of all-out war that erupted three years ago.

In keeping with its practice since that conflict, Hamas has stayed out of the current clashes, for fear of provoking a harsh Israeli retaliation. But it has not stopped other, smaller Gaza factions from attacking Israel, and Israel continues to hold it ultimately responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza.

In the past, similar flare-ups have died out by themselves or with informal cease-fires negotiated by third parties, often Egypt.

In this case, too, Egypt has been trying to mediate an end to the clashes, and Hamas has also appealed to other Mideast countries to join the truce attempts. But so far efforts have failed, with terrorists insisting that Israel first halt its airstrikes.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told Israel Radio that Israel would halt its raids if the rocket fire would cease, but added that the Israeli military would continue to take pre-emptive action to foil Palestinian attack plans.

The rocket escalation began Friday after the Israel Air Force carried out a targeted assassination against terror leader Zuhair al-Qaissi.

The airstrike on a car in Gaza City killed al-Qaissi, the head of Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees, and two of his underlings. It was the highest-profile killing Israel has carried out in many months.

Al-Qaissi oversaw the infiltration of terrorists from the Sinai into Israel north of Eilat last August in which eight Israelis were killed, and was planning another major infiltration attack in the coming days, military sources said. Hence, they said, the decision to target him in his car on Friday.

Al-Qaissi’s Hamas-linked PRC was also behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza for more than five years and freed in a prisoner swap last year in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians.