GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel pounded Gaza for the second day in a row Saturday, trading airstrikes and rocket fire with Palestinian militants and killing 15 of them as the deadliest Gaza violence in over a year showed no signs of abating.
Despite Egyptian efforts to mediate a cease-fire, Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets, some striking major cities in southern Israel and seriously wounding an Israeli civilian. The military responded with more than a dozen airstrikes and the targeted killings of Palestinian militants from various Gaza organizations.
Israel's lauded Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted more than 25 projectiles. Still, residents were told to stay close to home, and the cities of Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon called off school for today.
Tit-for-tat exchanges between Israel and Palestinians have been routine since the 2009 war, but a flare-up of this intensity is rare. The Arab League called the Israeli attacks a "massacre." The United Nations and the State Department condemned the violence and called on both sides to exercise restraint.
"This round in Gaza is far from being over," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a visit to southern Israel. "We will not allow anyone to harm the citizens of the country, and we will act against anyone who attempts to launch rockets. They will pay a heavy price, and no one will have immunity."
The latest spate of violence began Friday, when an Israeli airstrike on a car in Gaza City killed top militant commander Zuhair al-Qaissi and two underlings. It was the highest-profile killing Israel has carried out in many months, interrupting a period of relative calm on the volatile southern front. Almost immediately, Gaza militants unleashed a barrage of rockets toward southern Israeli border communities.
The U.N. and the State Department on Saturday called for an end to the violence.
"We deplore the fact that civilians are once again paying the price," said Richard Miron, a spokesman for Robert Serry, the U.N.'s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "We condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel in recent days, which has dramatically and dangerously escalated in the past day."