By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli air strikes killed two Palestinian militants and wounded 25 civilians in the Gaza Strip on Monday, medical sources said, as cross-border hostilities continued into a fourth day.
The latest violence has followed a familiar pattern in which militants launch numerous rocket attacks and Israel carries out air strikes in the Hamas-controlled enclave but the bloodshed has usually ended after a few days with an informal truce.
Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said late on Sunday that neighboring Egypt was working to stop the violence and was consulting with militant factions but added that Israel would have to first stop its air strikes.
The Islamic Jihad militant group, which has been responsible for much of the rocket firing, claimed Monday's dead as its own.
One man was hit while launching a rocket at Israel from a location in southern Gaza. Another was killed and three others wounded when their motorized rickshaw was hit, the group said.
Gaza hospital sources said 25 civilians were hurt when an Israeli rocket hit a house in northern Gaza.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said aircraft had carried out six strikes on Monday. She added that at least two Palestinian rockets had landed in Israel since midnight.
Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, armed groups largely independent of Hamas, have said they fired most of the rockets launched at Israel since Friday.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak predicted in a statement on Sunday that it would take several more days until the violence ended and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would hit hard at militants who launched rockets at its towns.
The attacks have disrupted normal life in southern Israel, forcing many schools to close on Sunday and Monday. Israeli aircraft have continued to overfly Gaza since Friday, killing at least 20 people, including two civilians.
Though serious, few in Israel expect the bloodshed to lead to a major ground assault reminiscent of the 2008-2009 Gaza war in 2009 which left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
"Israel is not keen to see an escalation, Israel is not keen to hurt innocents - Israel is absolutely opposed to this," said Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's eight-member inner council.
"For now, it (fighting) is on this kind of scale. But if it will prove protracted, then without a doubt there will be a powerful, painful blow will be so that this will not continue," he told Israel's Army Radio.
The latest round of violence flared on Friday when an air strike killed two Palestinian militant leaders in Gaza accused by Israel of planning a cross-border attack via Egypt. A salvo of rockets followed, leaving six people wounded in Israel.
Over 40 of some 160 militant rockets estimated to have been fired since Friday have been intercepted and destroyed by Israel's new Iron Dome anti-missile system, the military said.
(Writing by Ori Lewis)