A rocket fired by Palestinian militants slammed into a shopping mall in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, wounding at least five people, as U.S. President George W. Bush kicked off a three-day visit to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday.
At least one of those wounded was in a serious condition, Israeli emergency services said. Army radio said several people were trapped in the rubble.
The attack came minutes after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Hamas must halt attacks on Israel or risk the Jewish state launching military action on a hitherto unseen scale.
"We hope that we will not have to act against Hamas in other ways with the military power that Israel hasn't yet started to use in a serious manner in order to stop it," Olmert said after meeting Bush in Occupied Jerusalem.
Bush was at the start of a three-day visit to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Jewish state. He will address Israel's Knesset on Thursday, the day Palestinians commemorate the Naqba, or "catastrophe," of the Jewish state's creation, the 1948 war and the expulsion or flight of more than 760,000 people.
The people who fled or were driven from their homes in 1948 have since given rise to a UN-registered refugee population of 4.5 million in camps across the Middle East, including more than one million in the besieged Gaza Strip.
"While we mark the Naqba, President Bush comes to join Israelis in celebrating the creation of their state, forgetting that there is a Palestinian people that is still the victim of an injustice," said Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior official in president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party.
When Bush addresses Israel's parliament, activists plan to darken the skies over Jerusalem with over 21,000 black balloons and hold a massive demonstration in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas will hold a mass rally on Thursday at the Erez crossing with Israel protesting what it calls the "New Naqba" -- a crippling blockade imposed after the Islamist movement seized power in June.
The speech to Israel's parliament in the disputed city of Occupied Jerusalem is part of continuing celebrations of the Jewish state's anniversary.
Israel's three Arab political parties, drawing support from the 1.2 million descendents of the 160,000 Arabs who remained in the Jewish state after the 1948 war, said on Wednesday their 10 MPs will boycott the speech.
Bush is "responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the region," said MP Jamal Zahalka of the National Democratic Assembly. "His speech ... shows complete indifference to the Naqba of the Palestinian people and its suffering, and betrays his total ideological bias towards Israel."
Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, told reporters on Air Force One before it arrived that the president recognized that Israel's founding "resulted in hardship for many Palestinian people."
But he said Bush was determined to "redeem that hardship" by helping to create "a homeland for the Palestinian people in the same way that Israel 60 years ago became the homeland for the Jewish people."
Meanwhile in Gaza City on Wednesday hardline Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Palestinians were closer than ever before to reclaiming homes and lands lost 60 years ago.
"We affirm the right of return and that we are closer to return than ever before because the Zionist illusions have fallen," Zahar said at a Gaza City ceremony commemorating the Naqba.
"This entity is a colonial project that exposes its true face without shame, and so we reaffirm, 'No to recognizing Israel, No to recognizing Israel!'"
Hundreds of people attended the rally, waving Palestinian flags and maps of the Palestinian mandate before Israel's creation, and keys -- real or symbolic -- to homes left during the war.