Deadly violence between Israel and Gaza escalated Sunday in the most extreme strikes since the last full-blown war between the areas in 2014.
The four Israelis were the first civilians to die since a clash in the summer of 2014 when over 600 rockets were fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.
As Israel issued counterstrikes on the homes of several Palestinian militant commanders and on individual fighters, the Palestinian death toll rose to 23, according to the New York Times.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist group, for the attacks and reportedly ordered “massive attacks” against militant groups in Gaza and arranged for resources to be readied for days of fighting.
The fighting comes at a tense time for Israel, which in the coming weeks is hosting the popular televised music competition Eurovision, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors to Tel Aviv.
Tensions have been rising in the past year, as Palestinian protestors have stepped up their actions, sending incendiary balloons and explosive devices to Israel, which has in turn launched deadly strikes against oppositionists along its border.
The Times of Israel reported a Hamas official told Haaretz that the terror group chose ramped up pressure on Israel after a deal for the cessation of Palestinian border protests and device launches fell through.
“For two weeks now, we have warned of escalation because of [Israel’s] procrastination in implementing the understandings reached for calm,” the official said. “In Israel they asked for quiet and they received it, and in the Gaza Strip we did not feel any change for the better, so we decided to return to the harsh steps of popular protest.”
The heightened force also comes amid the international spotlight brought by the popular Eurovision song contest, which is expected to bring scores of visitors.
Officials with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas pledged to “prevent the festival” and they would not allow the competition to go on undisturbed, but officials with Israeli television and Eurovision have said the show’s itinerary will proceed unchanged.
The territory also expects to be busy with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, and the first anniversary of the opening of the contentious US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said though “the Israelis have every right to protect the sovereignty of their nation,” he condemned the violence in a Fox News interview on Sunday, and pushed for the groups to adhere to a cease-fire deal.