Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal blamed Netanyahu for the wave of violence.

"It is as if we started the problem in Gaza," he said. "As if a rocket was fired from Gaza so the Zionist enemy was forced to respond to it. This is not true."

"I say to the American and European administrations and the United Nations and our Arab neighbors: Were the Palestinian people supposed to break and surrender and die a slow death?" he said. "What is left of our lands and our holy sites? What life is left?"

But with rockets flying over his country's cities, Netanyahu seemed in no mood to back down.

"Our military is strong, the home front is steadfast and our people are united," he said.

The region has many depressing precedents when it comes to violence. Palestinians have revolted twice against Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel conquered and occupied those territories in the June 1967 war.

In late 2008 and early 2009, Israel carried out airstrikes and then a ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinians. The November 2012 Israeli offensive sparked a bloody eight-day conflict that ended in a cease-fire.

New threat

The IDF said 72 rockets rained down on Israel on Wednesday. Some came down in unpopulated areas, while others were intercepted by the country's Iron Dome defense system over Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Dimona, the IDF said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Dimona is home to a nuclear plant. Israeli media reported the facility was not hit.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said it would close Thursday. Embassy staff had to take shelter Tuesday during a rocket warning, and the facility was already operating with minimal staff.

Hamas is believed to have 10,000 rockets of varying ranges, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Israel said some 3.5 million residents live in areas within reach of the rockets.