Gazan rockets hit deep in Israel, minister sees war

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 23, 2011 3:49 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Palestinian rocket struck a city deep in Israel on Wednesday, wounding one person and prompting a deputy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for a new offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the dawn attack on Beersheba, 35 km (20 miles) east of Gaza, which followed a surge of cross-border shelling between Israeli forces and Hamas that killed four Palestinian civilians and five militants on Tuesday.

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian faction and occasional ally of Hamas, said it fired a rocket earlier on Wednesday that landed outside the Israeli port city of Ashdod, 40 km (25 miles) north of Gaza. No one was hurt in that attack.

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said the situation recalled the run-up to Israel's 2008-2009 Gaza offensive, which killed around 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians. In the war's wake, Hamas had mostly held its fire.

"We may have to consider a return to that operation," Shalom told Israel Radio. "I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation."

With dissident movements rocking the Arab world, the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has broached reconciliation talks with Islamist Hamas.

Shalom speculated that Hamas might have opened a new front with Israel "to stop any possibility of dialogue among the Palestinians or to come to the intra-Palestinian negotiation in a far stronger position."

Hamas has described its attacks, which included the firing of more than two dozen mortar shells and rockets at the weekend, as retaliation for Israeli strikes on Gaza.

After Tuesday's deaths in Gaza, Netanyahu apologized for the civilian casualties, which he said resulted from errant Israeli shelling. He said Israel sought no further flare-up but would continue to respond to attacks from Gaza.

(Writing by Dan Williams, editing by Diana Abdallah)