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On Thursday, Israel suffered its first casualties in the conflict when a rocket struck a four-story apartment building in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, killing three people and wounding seven others, including three children.

Hamas and other Gaza militant groups fired more than 200 rockets Thursday, with Beersheba, Israel’s largest city in the south, the principal target. Most landed without causing damage, and some were intercepted by Israel’s air defense system.

Israeli officials praised the performance of their Iron Dome missile defense system, which they said intercepted half the rockets.

Iron Dome’s radar is able to determine from a rocket’s trajectory whether it will hit a populated area and intercept it. The system ignores rockets with trajectories that indicate they will hit open areas.

Some Israeli commentators have suggested that the attack on Gaza is being driven with an eye on domestic politics: Mr. Netanyahu is up for re-election in January.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in neutralizing every possible rival, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fighting for enough votes to return to the Knesset,” Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper, wrote in an editorial. “A war against Hamas will wipe out the electoral aspirations of the ditherer, [former President] Ehud Olmert, whose disciples expected him to announce his candidacy this evening and it will kick off the agenda the ‘social and economic issue’ that serves the Labor Party.

“When the cannons roar, we see only Netanyahu and Barak on the screen, and all the other politicians have to applaud them,” Mr. Benn added.

Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.