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Rockets hit Israel and Jordan resorts

AQABA, Jordan (Reuters) - Rockets from Egypt’s Sinai, where Islamist militants have operated in the past, hit Israel’s and Jordan’s Red Sea port resorts on Monday, killing a Jordanian civilian and injuring three others, Jordanian and Israeli police said.

A Jordanian interior ministry source said one of the four injured when a rocket exploded near a five-star hotel in Aqaba, later died from his injuries.

There was no word of casualties in the adjacent Israeli port and holiday resort of Eilat, police said. Aqaba and Eilat lie on the narrow northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, an extension of the Red Sea, with Sinai stretching west and south of Eilat.

Jordanian Minister of State Ali al-Ayed said the kingdom would continue its “fight against terrorists who undertake callous attacks that targets innocent people.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres condemned the rocket fire and said Israel and Jordan, who made peace in 1994, were “partners in the uncompromising struggle to eradicate terrorism.”

“There is a real struggle in the Middle East between the peace camp of moderate countries and the camp of extremists, who want to sabotage any chance for peace,” Peres said.

Asked where the Aqaba rocket was fired from, the Jordanian source said without elaborating: “It came from the west.” Experts were investigating the site to find out where the short-range rocket had been launched, he said.

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Egyptian security sources were quoted by the state news agency as saying rockets could not have been fired from Sinai since the largely empty, desert region was very mountainous.

“The only missiles that can be fired from Sinai are mortars which can pass over these heights,” General Abdel Fadeel Shousha, governor of South Sinai, said adding the area such an operation would require open space.

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Aqaba resident Ibrahim Salymehin said he heard one loud blast and when he arrived at the scene he saw at least three injured men taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance.

A crowd gathered near the scene of the explosion several hundred meters away from a five-star hotel close to the beach.

“We saw the wreckage of a taxi which was burned, and fragmented metal scattered around the area that was cordoned off by police,” another Aqaba resident, Abdullah Yashin Rawashdehd, told Reuters.

Wreckage of cars damaged by a rocket attack is seen at a hotel area in the Jordan's Red Sea city of Aqaba, August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Abraham Farajian

Eilat District Police Commander Moshe Cohen told Israel Radio that his forces were still trying to confirm that five explosions heard in the morning had been caused by shelling.

Two of the suspected rockets or mortar bombs appeared to have landed in the sea, while another hit Aqaba, he said.

“It’s a little early to say, but it is reasonable to assume that it came from the southern area,” he said, referring to neighboring Egypt, whose Sinai Peninsula has suffered occasional violence attributed to Islamist militants.

A police spokesman later said the remains of one rocket was found in Eilat and was being examined by bomb experts.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the rocket salvo was a “deplorable action” intended to undermine direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Asked if Washington knew who was behind the attacks, Crowley told a news briefing: “There are armed elements here that want to see the conflict continue. They have used these tactics before and we’re not surprised that they are using them again.”

At least one rocket struck Aqaba on April 22, causing no casualties. Amman said the rocket had been fired from outside Jordan and Israeli media said Sinai was a possible launch point.

In 2005, rockets were fired at U.S. warships in Aqaba but missed their target and killed a Jordanian soldier on land. A group claiming links to al Qaeda said it was behind the attack.

Two years later, a Palestinian suicide bomber infiltrated through Sinai and killed three people at a bakery in Eilat, which lies on Israel’s southern tip and has only rarely been touched by the Middle East conflict.

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab states to have full peace treaties with Israel. Those relations were frayed by Israel’s crackdown a decade ago on a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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