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Rockets hit Israel & Jordan, one killed in Aqaba

Hamas says 30 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza

A suspected short-range rocket salvo probably from the Egyptian Sinai, an area where Islamist fighters have operated in the past, struck Israel's and Jordan's Red Sea ports on Monday, Israeli police said.

A Jordanian man died and four were wounded when a Grad-type rocket smashed into a street in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, a security official said.

"Subhi Yousef al-Alawneh died in Aqaba as a result of wounds he sustained from the rocket attack," the security official told AFP.

The 51-year-old taxi driver died at military-run Princess Haya hospital in port city, he added

There was no word on casualties in the Israeli port of Eilat, police said.

Eilat District Police Commander Moshe Cohen told Israel Radio that his forces were still trying to confirm that five explosions heard in the morning had been caused by shelling.

Two of the suspected rockets or mortar bombs appeared to have landed in the sea, while another struck Aqaba, he said.

Possibly from Sinai

Asked where the salvo was launched, Cohen said: "It's a little early to say, but it is reasonable to assume that it came from the southern area."

He was referring to neighboring Egypt, whose Sinai desert has seen occasional violence attributed to Islamist militants.

An Egyptian security official, meanwhile, said that the five rockets that slammed into the Red Sea ports of Eilat and Aqaba did not come from Egypt.

"The rockets did not come from Sinai. To launch rockets from Sinai would need a great deal of logistics and equipment and that is impossible considering the heavy security presence in the Sinai peninsula," the official said.

"We have a heavy security presence in Sinai, particularly along the Egyptian Israeli border," he said, stressing that "no suspicious activity has been reported anywhere in Sinai."

At least one rocket struck Aqaba on April 22, causing no casualties. Amman said the rocket had been fired from outside Jordan and Israeli media spoke of the Sinai as a possible launch point.

In 2005, rockets were fired at U.S. warships in Aqaba's port but missed their target and killed a Jordanian soldier on land. A group claiming links to al-Qaeda said it was behind the attack.

Two years later, a Palestinian suicide bomber infiltrated through the Sinai and killed three people at an Eilat bakery.

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab states to have full peace accords with Israel. Those ties were frayed by Israel's crackdown in 2000 on a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Gaza explosion

Earlier, an explosion in the house of a Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip has wounded at least 30 people, a Hamas official and medical workers in the Palestinian territory said early Monday.

Hamas blamed Israel for the explosion, which it said targeted field commander Alaa al-Danaf. The Israeli military, through an army spokeswoman, denied any involvement.

Medical workers said the blast had wounded 30 people inside and outside al-Danaf's house. It was unclear if he was killed in the blast, which occurred at a time of renewed cross-border violence between Gaza fighters and the Israeli army.

Danaf was known as a bomb maker. Often there are accidental explosions in bomb factories. In the hours before this blast, Palestinian security officials said there were two other explosions elsewhere in Gaza, apparently caused by an intense heat wave detonating chemicals.

A Hamas commander and rocket-maker was killed in an Israeli air strike at the weekend after a rocket fired from the enclave exploded in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Issa Batran, whose caravan was hit by a missile, was the first Hamas commander killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza since Israel wound up a three-week military offensive against the territory's Hamas Islamist rulers in January 2009.

The three-week war dramatically reduced the number of rockets hitting Israel, but devastated the densely populated and impoverished Palestinian territory and drew international criticism.

Most of the rocket fire since has been carried out by smaller groups that do not necessarily accept Hamas authority. Hamas has largely refrained from launching attacks, apparently because of concerns about Israeli retaliation.

I see the Hamas as directly responsible for any attack that comes from the Gaza Strip toward the state of Israel and the international community should see it this way as well

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Blaming Hamas

Israel's prime minister issued a stern warning Sunday to Hamas rulers after the weekend of rocket attacks on Israeli communities.

Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Israel holds the Islamic group responsible for the rare flare-up in violence and would retaliate for any attack against its people.

"I see the Hamas as directly responsible for any attack that comes from the Gaza Strip toward the state of Israel and the international community should see it this way as well," Netanyahu said. "Israel reserves the right to defend its citizens and we will continue to use all means to protect the people of Israel and the children of Israel."

The attacks caused damage but no injuries. No Palestinian group took responsibility for the attacks.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Netanyahu of trying to "invent pretexts for new attacks" on Hamas.

"Netanyahu and his government bear all the consequences of this escalation," he said.

The violence came shortly after the Arab League authorized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter into direct peace talks with Israel, a notion that Gaza fighters abhor. The league endorsed the idea after President Barack Obama warned Abbas in a letter that U.S.-Palestinian relations might suffer if the Palestinian leader refused to resume direct negotiations.

"Dictations"

Hamas' exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, denounced American demands for direct talks.

"These are dictations. These dictations were done secretly in the past but now they are done publicly," Meshaal said Sunday in Syria. "Arab and Palestinian leaders have no options because the decision was adopted in foreign capitals."

Negotiations between Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, broke off over the Gaza war. Indirect, U.S.-mediated talks were launched in May.

"I think the international community, at least an important part of it, and of course the United States, expects the Palestinian Authority to put aside all the excuses and arguments and all the conditions and get into direct peace talks," Netanyahu said. "I call on Abu Mazen to take a brave decision to start peace talks with Israel."

Abbas insists he will only negotiate if Israel commits to freezing all settlement construction. Palestinians are wary of resuming talks with Netanyahu without agreeing first on an agenda, a timetable and a framework.

Netanyahu has refused to be pinned down and make concessions ahead of talks. Netanyahu has put in place a partial 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank that is due to expire in late September.

Direct talks

Israeli President Shimon Peres added his voice Sunday to the growing chorus of calls for direct talks.

"We must begin the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible. The timing is critical and there is a window of opportunity that cannot be missed," he said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

Mubarak spokesman Suleiman Awwad said direct peace talks must be "serious, continuous with a fixed time limit," calling for an active and impartial U.S. role. He also said Israel should take further measures to ease conditions in the West Bank and lift its blockade of Gaza.

Israel has removed dozens of roadblocks in the West Bank, but hundreds remain. Last month Israel eased its blockade of Gaza by allowing in consumer goods, while maintaining restrictions on building materials, enforcing a sea blockade to keep weapons out of Gaza and banning most exports.