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Middle East
Israeli air strikes draw Gaza rocket fire
Projectiles fired at Israel from Gaza Strip in apparent reprisal to air raids on the Palestinian enclave.
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2011 16:04
Wednesday's bomb attack in Jerusalem comes amid a spike in violence in recent days [AFP]

A series of rockets have slammed into the Israeli port city of Ashdod, just south of Tel Aviv, shortly after Israeli aircraft pounded targets in Gaza, in an escalating conflict that has raised fears of a new war.

Israeli police said on Thursday that long-range Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit Ashdod and an area north of the Mediterranean port. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"The Israeli army has just confirmed that a total of nine rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip," Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

"Two of them were Grad rockets, one of them landed in Ashdod, the other one just north of Ashdod - that one is the farthest these rockets have reached since the cross border tension started eight days ago," she said.

Violence along the Gaza border has worsened in recent days.

Israeli jets staged three air strikes over Gaza, hours after a bomb struck a crowded bus stop in West Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing one person and wounding 30 in what authorities said was the first major attack in the city in several years.

Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls the Gaza Strip, said on Thursday that the Israeli strikes targeted smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, as well as one of its training camps in central Gaza.

A third strike hit a power transformer, causing blackouts in the area, witnesses said. Medical workers said no one was injured in the strikes. Hamas said it ordered its personnel to evacuate their positions.

An Israeli defence spokeswoman confirmed the sorties, saying: "The air force targeted two tunnels at the south of the Gaza Strip and a terrorist target in Gaza."

The military said the strikes were a response to the recent barrage of rockets.

Jerusalem blast

Wednesday's bombing of the bus stop in Jerusalem came several hours after two Grad rockets fired from Gaza hit the southern Israeli city of Beersheva.

"There was no immediate claim of responsibility. [...] The normal reaction is for people to blame Palestinian groups when there is an explosion in Jerusalem, but the police are carrying out an investigation and aren't ruling out any possibility," our correspondent said.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, told Al Jazeera that a device in a bag that was left in a phone booth near the bus station exploded when the bus passed.

"This was not a suicide attack," Rosenfeld said.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned Palestinian fighters not to test Israel's "iron will", and vowed a tough response to the bombing.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, warned that Israel will not tolerate "terrorist" attacks.

Violence has spiked in recent days, with the knife slaying this month of a Jewish settler family as they slept and the deaths of at least eight Palestinians, including children, in Gaza by Israeli strikes on Tuesday.

Bombings have been rare in inJerusalem  the past several years. Palestinians carried out dozens of bombings in the city at the height of an uprising that began in 2000.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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