Israel will escalate its response to ongoing rocket attacks against citizens of the South, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of a cabinet meeting.

"The IDF is striking and will continue to strike Gaza," Netanyahu said. "Terrorist organizations are suffering grave setbacks at the hands of the IDF. The world must understand that Israel will not sit idly."

He added: "We are ready to escalate our response."

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired at least 40 rockets and mortars into Israel since midnight Saturday night, according to the Southern District Police, injuring three civilians. The barrage continued a serious escalation that began Saturday evening and progressed through the night, with two IAF air strikes targeting a weapons manufacturing site, two weapons storage facilities and two rocket launching sites in the northern part of the territory. Palestinian sources said two Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in the strikes.

The fresh launches bring the total number of rocket and mortar attacks to over 70. Hamas announced that it was also taking part in the rocket attacks, Israel Radio reported.

The IDF vowed that it would "not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will continue to act against any organization initiating terror attacks against the State of Israel."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also told Army Radio Sunday morning that Israel is working to ensure the IDF has the freedom to operate. "The primary fight is along the fence, where we're trying to ensure that Israel can operate as normal," Barak said.

"With open eyes, we must strike blows as necessary, and sometimes you get hit, because that's how it goes in a boxing ring," the minister said.

President Shimon Peres expressed hope that Israel and the Palestinians could reach an agreement to end the ongoing escalation in the South "The current situation is untenable," Peres said. "My heart and thoughts are with the residents of the South. They deserve peace and security. I am all hope that we can reach an agreement to deescalate the conflict soon and avoid suffering for both sides."

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter told Israel Radio on Sunday that there is no magic solution to stopping [rocket] fire from the Gaza Strip, and the attacks could continue for a matter of years.

Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich called on Barak to declare a special state in the home front in light of ongoing Palestinian rocket fire. "Israel has two choices in front of it: the military route and the diplomatic route," she said. "It is clear that Hamas is intensifying the region and it is our job to cope with the problem with determination and with all the tools at our disposal."

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio that upcoming national elections will have no effect on IDF activities in the Gaza Strip. "Whoever thinks that we can send a million people to suffer rockets and shock because of elections is crazy," Shalom said. "This is an untenable situation. There are old people there (in the South) who can't move from place to place (when the sirens sound.)"

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger