March 24, 2011 / 2:37 PM / 6 years ago

Gaza rockets strike deeper inside Israel

<p>The remains of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza are removed after it landed in the southern city of Beersheba, March 23, 2011.Haim Horenstein</p>

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian rockets struck deep inside Israel Thursday close to the urban sprawl south of Tel Aviv, and Israel pounded targets in Gaza in a surging conflict that has raised fears of a new war.

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

Violence along the Gaza border has worsened in recent days and a bomb attack Wednesday in Jerusalem that Israeli police blamed on Palestinian militants killed one woman and injured 30 people. It was the first such bombing in the city since 2004.

Britain identified the dead woman as a British national, Mary-Jane Gardner, and Israeli police said she was a tourist.

The Israeli military said five rockets and a mortar bomb from Gaza exploded in Israel, causing no casualties. Schools remained closed in Ashdod and in Beersheba, a city in the Negev desert struck several times in the past week.

Israel carried out a series of strikes on Gaza throughout the day and there were no initial reports of casualties.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said "terror targets" were hit from the air in the latest attack. Hamas officials said a Hamas internal security compound in Gaza City, an adjacent training camp and a rocket launcher further north were hit.

In earlier air strikes, missiles hit smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, a Hamas training camp, a rocket crew and a power transformer, causing blackouts in the enclave, Gaza residents said.

"The responsibility lies entirely on Hamas ... we know how to act and have proven this in the past, we will strike proportionately when needed," Israeli Civil Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio.

CONFLICT ACCELERATES

Israel says the air strikes have been a response to rocket barrages. Hamas says its attacks in the past week have been in reaction to Israeli strikes. Five Palestinian militants and four civilians, three of them children, were killed by Israeli fire in Gaza Tuesday.

The upswing of violence in the past few days has led to fears of a new war between Israel and Hamas Islamists, who have ruled the small Mediterranean coastal territory since 2007, after months of relative quiet.

Wednesday, militants in Gaza fired more than a dozen rockets and mortar bombs across the border.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Islamic Jihad militant group said two of its leaders were detained by security forces of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for questioning about the Jerusalem bombing.

No group claimed responsibility for planting the bomb, which exploded near a bus stop.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned militant groups in the Gaza Strip Wednesday that the Jewish state would act decisively to defend itself.

He threatened a lengthy "exchange of blows" with Palestinian militants, though officials from both sides have said they want to prevent a repeat of Israel's 2009 three-week war on the mainly desert enclave.

"Calm will be met with calm," an Islamic Jihad leader said.

Israel launched the Gaza war with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket fire, and killed around 1,400 Palestinians in the conflict, drawing heavy international censure.

Hamas had mostly held its fire since then.

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