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Hamas rocket kills three in Israel

A wider war looms as Hamas fires rockets into southern Israel after its strikes across the Gaza strip.

Palestinian men evacuate an elderly woman following an Israeli air strike on November 14, 2012 in Gaza City. Picture: AFP.

GAZA - Hamas fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel on Thursday, killing three people, and Israel launched numerous air strikes across the Gaza Strip, threatening a wider offensive to halt repeated Palestinian salvoes.

Israeli police said the three died when a Palestinian rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, some 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza. They were the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.

Israel on Wednesday assassinated Hamas's military mastermind and shelled the enclave from the land, sea and air, killing 13 people, including five militants, three children and a pregnant woman. More than 100 were wounded.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday to discuss the Israeli assault. It called for a halt to the violence, but took no action.

Expecting days or more of fighting, Israel warned Hamas that all its men were in its sights and dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to keep their distance from militants and Hamas facilities.

"The leaflets stress that Hamas is dragging the region toward violence, and that the IDF is prepared to defend the residents of the State of Israel until quiet is restored to the region," the military said in a statement.

Israel weathered censure from influential Arab powers Egypt and Qatar. The United States condemned Hamas, shunned by the West as an obstacle to peace for its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Hamas has said the killing of its top commander, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, would "open the gates of hell" for Israel. It also appealed to neighbouring Egypt to halt the "barbaric" assault.