Rocket attacks were launched from Gaza into southern Israel cities on Wednesday following overnight Israeli strikes that killed nine Palestinians, including children, as tensions soared on the border with Israel.
A Grad rocket hit the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Wednesday, injuring one man, the Jerusalem Post reported, adding that another Grad missile was launched from the Gaza Strip and exploded south of the Israeli port of Ashdod earlier within causing any injuries or casualties.
The Islamic Jihad Palestinian armed group claimed responsibility for both rocket attacks on Beersheba and Ashdod.
"A Grad rocket hit the center of the city of Beersheva. One man was moderately injured by shrapnel and taken to hospital," an Israeli army spokeswoman told AFP.
She said the rocket had hit a road and the shrapnel had flown into a nearby apartment, injuring the man.
Another Grad rocket fired by armed groups in the Gaza Strip hit the outskirts of Beersheva on Feb. 23, but this was the first time since Operation Cast Lead that such a projectile landed in the middle of the city, home to 186,000 people.
Beersheba is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza, much further than the Israeli cities regularly targeted by Palestinian armed groups.
Israeli strikes on Gaza
Late on Tuesday, nine Gazans were killed, as tensions soared on the border with Israel after days of rocket fire and riposte air strikes.
The victims died in two separate Israeli attacks on the eastern part of Gaza City following a day of bloodshed and violence.
Two of the dead were aged 11 and 16, and four were from the armed wing of the radical Islamist Jihad movement, medical and Palestinian sources said.
Four of the victims died when an Israeli shell hit a family home in Shejaiya, medics said.
Several hours later, another five people were killed -- all of them from armed groups -- in an air strike on the nearby Zeitun neighborhood.
Earlier on Tuesday, fighters in Gaza fired nine rockets and missiles into Israel -- seven mortars, one Qassam and one Grad rocket, the army said.
The surge in bloodshed follows days of rising cross-border violence, which has ramped up tensions between Israel and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers and once again raised fears of a large-scale Israeli military invasion to stamp out rocket fire.
The bloodshed drew an angry response from the armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
"This crime will not go unpunished and the resistance is not afraid of the so-called Zionist deterrence," a Hamas website quoted Brigades spokesman Abu Obeid as saying.
Hamas premier Ismail Haniya in a statement urged the U.N. Security Council, "which has not hesitated to take decisions and implement them rapidly, as with Libya, to do the same to protect our people and punish the Israeli occupation."
Condemnation & regret
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, currently in Moscow, condemned "the Israeli escalation which has cost the lives of many Palestinians, including children," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
"We ask everyone to remain calm so that it does not affect Abbas's planned visit to Gaza, which is aimed at forming a government to end the division and to lift the siege on Gaza," he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed regret over the accidental deaths, but emphasized that the shooting came in response to Hamas firing at Israeli citizens.
"It is unfortunate that Hamas continues to rain dozens of rockets down on Israeli civilians, intentionally using civilians as human shields. Israel has no intention of causing the situation to deteriorate but at the same time, the IDF will continue to act decisively to protect Israeli citizens."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned Tuesday's deaths.
Ban "is very concerned at an escalating situation in Gaza and southern Israel -- he reiterates as well his condemnation of rocket fire by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including from populated areas, against civilian targets in southern Israel," the U.N. chief said in a statement released by his office.
"He calls on all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law."
Two days earlier, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades fired some 50 mortar rounds into the Jewish state, slightly injuring two people, in what was the most intensive bombardment since the end of Israel's 22-day war on Jan. 18, 2009.
Operation Cast Lead is the name for Israel's war on Gaza which started at the end of December 2008 in a bid to halt rocket fire on Israel. During the operation 1,400 Palestinians were killed, more than half of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.