Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the Gaza Strip Friday to denounce Israel's deadly airstrikes this week, as a senior Israeli official threatened a widescale invasion to stop rocket fire from the territory.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the rally that the Islamic militant group will not be deterred by Israeli military action.

Israeli airstrikes this week in Hamas-controlled Gaza have killed at least 32 people, about half of them civilians.  Palestinian militants have fired scores of rockets, including one that killed an Israeli civilian Wednesday.

Also today, Israel's deputy defense minister told Israeli radio the Jewish state has no choice, but to launch a widescale military operation in Gaza.  He said Israel will use all of its power to defend itself.

He said the more Palestinians intensify rocket fire and extend the reach of the rockets, the bigger the "shoah" they will bring upon themselves.

"Shoah" is the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster.  An Israeli spokesman says the deputy defense minister used the word to denote a disaster, not as a reference to the Holocaust.

On Thursday, Palestinian gunmen carried out their deepest rocket attack ever on Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city of about 120,000 people, about 40 kilometers from Tel Aviv.  Previously, the militants had mostly targeted Sderot, a small town near Gaza.

A Hamas official said the Islamic militant group targeted Ashkelon in response to escalating Israeli airstrikes.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.