GAZA, July 10 -- A fresh airstrike by Israel in Gaza early on Thursday claimed seven lives of Palestinians. The move worsened the tensions in the region and drew international concerns.
Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman of the health ministry in Gaza, told reporters that seven civilians, including three women and four children were killed in the intensive Israeli airstrikes on three houses in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis.
The death toll of the Palestinians in Israeli offensive airstrikes, which started on Tuesday, has climbed to 68 and more than 400 others were wounded.
Israel has been launching a large-scale aerial attack called " Operation Protective Edge" since Tuesday predawn in response to hundreds of rockets fired into Israel by Gaza militant groups, mainly Hamas movement.
Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a press statement that "targeting women and children is a proof of the enemy's (Israel) failure in confronting the armed Palestinian confrontation."
"We assert that the occupation (Israel) will soon regret the moment it thought to commit all these crimes," said Abu Zuhri.
Hamas armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said in a press statement sent to reporters that it fired 279 rockets into Israel within two days, while other militant groups fired more than 100 rockets into Israel.
Media reports said that the United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Thursday on the escalating violence, following a request by Arab envoys and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban on Wednesday called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restore a political horizon, warning the region is facing "one of the most critical tests."
The UN chief firmly condemned the multiple rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel, stressing that such attacks are unacceptable and must stop.
He also urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians.
Also on Wednesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Reyad al-Malki said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for a meeting of contracting states of the Geneva Conventions, to put an end to the Israeli offensive in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly talked by phone on Wednesday, and Kerry was then to speak with Abbas "over the next 24 hours".
France on Wednesday urged Israeli officials and Palestinian authorities to urgently resume peace negotiations to reach "a fundamental solution," to end the deadlock in the Middle East and ease tensions in the region.
French Foreign Ministry's spokesman Romain Nadal said the recent wave of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be discussed at the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council scheduled for July 22.
China on Wednesday expressed its deep concern over the tensions and called for an immediate ceasefire.
"China believes that military forces cannot resolve the issues, but create more feud," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily press briefing.
The situation strained as a Palestinian teenager was murdered on July 2. The crime was committed amid a wave of Jewish right-wing extremists advocating for violence against Arabs, following the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teens in June, believed to have been killed by Palestinian militants.
Massive clashes between hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli security forces ensued in east Jerusalem and in Israel's north following the teen's murder.
And the latest cycle of violence is the worst since an Israeli offensive against Gaza in 2012 that also aimed to stop Palestinian rocket attacks.