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Middle East

Palestinian rockets hit Israeli town despite truce talks

Latest update : 2009-02-03

Palestinian militants sent a rocket into the Israeli town of Ashkelon, 13km from the Gaza border. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has said that, although most of the rockets were not fired by Hamas, the group were nonetheless responsible.

AFP- Palestinian militants sent a rocket thudding into an Israeli town Tuesday in a flare-up of violence the Jewish state warned would be met by force, as talks on a long-term Gaza truce dragged on in Egypt.

Medics said the rocket caused damage but no injuries in Ashkelon, 13 kilometres (eight miles) from Gaza's border, the furthest a projectile has reached since the end of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza on January 18.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak convened an emergency meeting of military and intelligence chiefs on the situation, army radio said.

The strike came as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt toured the battered Palestinian enclave, where on Monday the army carried out a air raid that killed a Gaza militant.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose ruling centrist Kadima party is trailing in opinion polls to the rightwing opposition Likud ahead of the February 10 election, called for a tough response to the renewed rocket fire.

"We have to react hard to this fire, otherwise the dissuasion balance created by our operation in Gaza will be affected," she told army radio.

While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Sunday to deal "a severe and disproportionate" response to new rocket fire, Barak was quoted as saying the army had no intention of embarking on a second war in Gaza.

The ceasefires that ended the war after 22 days of a blistering Israeli offensive began unravelling 10 days later when an Israeli soldier was killed in a militant bomb blast near the Gaza border.

Since then, Israeli air strikes on targets in Gaza have killed a civilian and a militant and have wounded some two dozen people. Palestinian militants have fired about 40 rockets and mortar rounds, wounding one civilian and two soldiers.

Barak's senior aide Amos Gilad said although most of the rockets were not fired by Hamas, the group nevertheless bore responsibility for the attacks.

"It's not Hamas, but this doesn't change anything since Hamas claims to govern Gaza, therefore they have to assume the responsibility," he told army radio.

He said the rockets were being fired by "extremist groups manipulated by Iran."

The Islamist movement Hamas, which is pledged to Israel's destruction, has controlled Gaza since it violently routed forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007.

In Cairo, a Hamas delegation was meeting Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and expected to give its response to a proposal for a long-term truce around Gaza.

Hamas has said it favours a one-year truce on condition that Israel opens the border crossings of the territory it has kept sealed to all but essential humanitarian goods since mid-2007.

Israel's Gilad said, however, the talks in Egypt would be meaningless if the rocket fire continues.

"It's of little importance what will come out from the current contacts between Hamas and Egypt, Israel will in any case reserve its right to a military response in case of attacks," he said.

The ceasefire talks have been complicated by Palestinian factional feuding and on Sunday, Abbas accused Hamas of putting Palestinian lives at risk and trying to smash the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Khaled Meshaal, who heads Hamas's Damascus-based exiled political leadership, said last week that the PLO had become obsolete and called for a "new national authority."

The PLO parliament was due to hold an emergency session in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Tuesday following the remarks.

Bildt meanwhile, paying a surprise visit to Gaza, toured a demolished factory and a hospital damaged during Israel's 22-day assault.

He met with UN and hospital officials and surveyed the damage from the war but did not plan to meet with anyone from the Hamas government.

Date created : 2009-02-03