Last Updated: Fri Aug 19, 2011 15:23 pm (KSA) 12:23 pm (GMT)

Four Israelis injured as wave of Gaza rockets fired on southern Israeli cities

A Palestinian carries an injured woman into Al-Shifa hospital, after an overnight Israeli air strike, in Gaza. (Photo by REUTERS)
A Palestinian carries an injured woman into Al-Shifa hospital, after an overnight Israeli air strike, in Gaza. (Photo by REUTERS)

Four Israelis were injured, one seriously, when a Grad rocket fired by armed groups in Gaza slammed into the coastal town of Ashdod in southern Israel early on Friday, Al Arabiya correspondent said. The rocket is the last of a series of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Friday.

The Israeli military confirmed the strike saying a school and a synagogue had been damaged in the attack.

“Two rockets fired at the city of Ashdod caused damage and injuries at a synagogue and school,” a statement said.

The latest firings raised to 12 the total number of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel since midnight, the military said.

The increased rocket fire came a day after gunmen Israel said were from Gaza staged a coordinated series of attacks on a desert road near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, killing eight Israelis.

The air force hit back, striking targets across the strip which killed seven Palestinians, at least four of them senior Gaza fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees, the group Israel says was behind Thursday’s bloodshed.

The group was involved in the capture of an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

The group immediately vowed to exact a bitter revenge “against everything and everyone” for the killing of its leader and other senior cadres.

An Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed five members of the group, including its commander, as well as the 3-year-old child of one of the militants, according to Hamas security officials.

An Egyptian police officer and two conscripts were then killed when an Israeli plane fired a rocket near the border at militants it was tracking after the attacks near Eilat, Egyptian security officials said.

Two policemen were wounded in the air raid, they said.

The attacks were the deadliest against Israelis since a gunman killed eight civilians in Jerusalem in 2008. They suggested that Egypt’s recent political upheaval and a resulting power vacuum in Sinai had allowed armed groups to open a new front against Israel on the long-quiet frontier, The Associated Press reported.

“Today we all witnessed an attempt to step up terror by attacking from Sinai. If anyone thinks Israel will live with that, he is mistaken,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Thursday, according to The Associated Press. “If the terror organizations think they can strike at our civilians without a response, they will find that Israel will exact a price - a very heavy price.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned what she called “premeditated acts of terrorism against innocent civilians,” and said the US and Israel were “united in the fight against terror.”

Mrs. Clinton added that the violence “only underscores our strong concerns about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula,” and urged the Egyptian government to find “a lasting solution.”

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv issued an “emergency message” urging US citizens to avoid the area of the attack and requiring embassy employees and their families to receive approval before traveling to Israel's south.

Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, denied the militants’ complicity, saying Gaza “has nothing to do with these attacks,” according to AP.

Though it seemed clear the gunmen had come through Egyptian territory, Gen. Khaled Fouda, the governor of the southern Sinai district, said no shooting had come from the Egyptian side.

“The incident underscores the weak Egyptian hold on Sinai and the broadening of the activities of terrorists,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “The real source of the terror is in Gaza, and we will act against them with full force and determination.”

The Sinai desert, dominated by Bedouin tribes and never entirely under the control of the central government, have grown more violent since a popular uprising toppled longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak in February. Since then, assailants have repeatedly blown up a crucial pipeline carrying natural gas to Israel and Jordan.

Egypt moved thousands of troops into the area last week as part of a major operation against Al Qaeda-inspired militants who have been increasingly active there since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Most of the routine traffic across the remote, mountainous border involves Bedouin smugglers ferrying drugs and African asylum seekers into Israel.

There is a thriving smuggling trade between Sinai and Gaza through tunnels under the border, and goods and people can move in both directions. If the attackers were from Gaza, they could have reached Sinai through the tunnels and then crossed the Israel-Egypt border, which is largely unfenced, making their way toward Eilat, which is 130 miles (200 kilometers) from Gaza.

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