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9 children among 20 dead in Israeli airstrike after rocket attack

9 children among 20 dead in Israeli airstrike after rocket attack
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The Gaza Ministry of Health on Monday said that nine children were among 20 people killed by an Israeli airstrike apparently launched in retaliation for rocket attacks aimed at Jerusalem amid growing tensions between Israeli and Palestinian communities.

The Washington Post and The Associated Press reported that the airstrike also killed three Hamas militants, citing Gaza's health ministry. It was one of the deadliest single incidents to occur in recent days as violence has surged around and in Jerusalem.

The Pentagon on Monday defended the Israeli airstrike.

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"Today’s rocket attack from Gaza into Israel is unacceptable, and the United States supports Israel’s right to self defense, and here at the department we’re going to continue our cooperation to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend and project itself," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

"Obviously we don’t want to see innocent lives taken and nobody wants to see this level of violence but as I said ... these rocket attacks from Gaza are unacceptable," he added. 

Violence erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem over the weekend with videos showing Israeli riot police storming the building as screaming worshippers fled in terror and hundreds were injured. Nearly two dozen officers were also injured by rocks thrown by Palestinian protesters in the same incident, according to Israeli officials.

Airborne rocket attacks were aimed at Jerusalem on Monday by Hamas militants in response. It was unclear if there were any injuries or deaths, but one Israeli man was reportedly injured when an anti-tank rocket struck his car in a separate attack, according to the Post.

The airstrike came as Israel's prime minister, Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, warned that Hamas militants would pay a price for the rocket attacks aimed at Jerusalem hours earlier.

“The terrorist organizations in Gaza crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles at the entrances to Jerusalem. Israel will respond with great force," said Netanyahu. “We did not want to escalate, but those who chose to escalate will be hit forcefully.”

Tensions have soared in the country for weeks amid Israeli settlement efforts in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Palestinian residents say they are being illegally evicted by settlers, a longstanding issue between the two communities.

Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report that was updated at 3:50 p.m.