Tel Aviv/Gaza : At least eight people were killed and 13 wounded when Israeli planes fired missiles Sunday night at the house of a senior Hamas lawmaker, witnesses said.
The attack came after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened to intensify military strikes against the radical Islamic Hamas group, which heads the Palestinian Authority government, in response to rocket fire on southern Israeli towns.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was "appealing to the international community to pressure Israel into stopping its escalation of violence," said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman.
Khalil al-Haya, who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sustained minor injuries in the air strike. Witnesses and medics said seven of those killed were members of the al-Haya family, and the eighth was a bodyguard.
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the air force staged an attack in the area, but that the target was a group of armed Hamas militants, and not al-Haya.
Later Sunday, artillery shells were fired at the house of a Hamas affiliated man, witnesses said. Three of his children were moderately wounded.
In the last six-months, Israel has not conducted strikes against members of the Hamas political wing.
But speaking during his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning in Jerusalem, Olmert warned: "If the measured steps we are taking, in the political and military sphere, do not bring about the desired calm, we will be forced to intensify our response."
At least 20 Palestinians, most of whom were affiliated with Hamas, have been killed since Israel began airstrikes on targets in Gaza last week.
Meanwhile, Khaled al-Batch, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said his organization would hold both Israel and the international community responsible for any attacks on its leadership.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson, told reporters in Gaza that his organization "will keep launching home-made missiles on the Israeli settlements and communities."
At least 14 such rockets were fired into southern Israel Sunday, the Israeli military said.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz declared a "special situation" in areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip following sustained and continuing Palestinian militant rocket attacks on the town of Sderot.
Israeli radio reported that the decision was taken in consultation with Olmert and was to be approved by the cabinet during its meeting Sunday.
In practice, the declaration means that Peretz has transferred civilian authority power to the Israeli army's "home front command," The Jerusalem Post reported in its online edition.
The "special home front situation" status is a level below declaring a state of emergency, but opens up the possibility of financial aid and compensation for residents afflicted by the barrage of home-made Palestinian Qassam rockets, as well as implementing other administrative measures.