JERUSALEM — Israel launched attacks Tuesday against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, killing eight people, including three children who were mistakenly hit with tank shells as they played soccer near their home, officials said.
Israeli officials said the strikes were in response to last weekend's barrage of more than 50 mortar shells fired by Gaza militants into southern Israel, injuring two.
An Israeli military spokesman, Capt. Barak Raz, said Israel regretted the children's deaths but blamed Palestinian militants for using residential areas as a staging ground for attacks.
Relatives of the children, ages 9 to 13, reported seeing militants trying to use their neighborhood to launch shells before the Israeli attack. The children's grandfather was killed in the same attack.
Officials from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and participated in the recent mortar attacks, accused Israel of "war crimes."
"We are doing our best to avoid violence with Israel, but the Israelis continue to escalate their aggressions against us," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters in Gaza.
In another attack Tuesday, four members of the rival militant group Islamic Jihad were killed by an Israeli airstrike as they drove in their car, witnesses said.
Israel also struck a half dozen other targets Tuesday, including smuggling tunnels and weapons caches. About 19 Palestinians were wounded in those attacks.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the Israeli strikes and called upon the international community to intervene to restore the calm. French government officials also called for restraint from both sides.