ASHKELON, Israel(Reuters) – A rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip struck the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon on Friday, causing damage but no injuries, officials said.
The rare attack on the southern city, which was likely to elicit a military response from Israel, came after months of quiet following Israel’s launch of a three week military campaign in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in late 2008.
“No doubt this is the most serious event that happened since operation Cast Lead,” Ashkelon mayor Benny Vaknin told Israel Radio, referring to the devastating Israeli incursion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement from his office: “Israel takes the firing on Ashkelon very seriously.”
The attack on Ashkelon, located about 12 km (7 miles) up the coast from Gaza with some 125,000 residents, came a day after the Arab League gave a green light for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in direct peace talks with Israel.
Hamas, which opposes a peace treaty with Israel, rejected the Arab League decision. One Hamas official called it a “political sin”.
Abbas has been negotiating with Netanyahu indirectly for two months through U.S. mediation and has been facing U.S. pressure to upgrade to face-to-face talks. He has so far refused.
There has been sporadic rocket fire since the war, mostly in the direction of smaller Israeli towns closer to the border and none of it lethal. But Israeli forces usually respond by striking at militant targets inside Gaza.
A police spokesman said the rocket was the so-called Grad type, which has a longer range and heavier payload than the more common improvised rockets that are made in Gaza rather than smuggled in.
It landed in a residential area.
No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. Hamas has said it is trying to stop militants from firing at Israel, but smaller groups have continued the attacks.