IT COULD KICK OFF IN AND OVER GAZA AGAIN
Nutternyahu has recently apologised for killing four Palestinian civilians.
Gaza militants' rockets strike cities deep into Israel
Islamic Jihad claims attacks on Beersheba and Ashdod as Israeli vice-premier calls for new offensive in Gaza Strip
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 March 2011 09.40 GMT
Palestinian rockets have struck two cities deep in Israel, wounding one man and prompting a deputy to the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to call for a new offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The attacks, which drew retaliatory air strikes from Israel, marked the biggest escalation of hostilities since Israel launched its assault on Gaza two years ago.
Islamic Jihad, a smaller Gaza faction and occasional Hamas ally, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Beersheba and Ashdod that followed a surge of shelling between Israel and Hamas that killed four Palestinian civilians and five militants on Tuesday.
After the deaths on Tuesday in Gaza, Netanyahu voiced regret for the civilian casualties, which he said resulted from errant Israeli shelling.
The Israeli vice-premier, Silvan Shalom, said the situation recalled the runup to Israel's 2008-2009 Gaza war, in which around 1,400 Palestinians died. Hamas has mostly held its fire from the enclave since.
"We may have to consider a return to that operation," Shalom told Israel Radio. "I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation."
With dissident movements rocking the Arab world, the US-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has broached reconciliation with Islamist Hamas, which defeated his Fatah faction in a 2006 ballot and seized control of Gaza in a civil war a year later.
Shalom said Hamas might have opened a new front with Israel "to stop any possibility of dialogue among the Palestinians or to come to the intra-Palestinian negotiation in a far stronger position".
Hamas is shunned by the west for rejecting peace with Israel. Under Hamas rule, Gaza has been kept under grinding embargoes by Israel and neighbouring Egypt. Security and economic prospects have improved under Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which has a limited mandate in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Islamic Jihad said it fired Grad rockets, assembly-line weapons more sophisticated than some shorter-range projectiles militants have used in the past, at Beersheba and Ashdod, 20 miles and 25 miles from Gaza respectively.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said a Beersheba man suffered moderate shrapnel wounds and that the second rocket landed outside Ashdod's centre, causing no damage. Authorities closed schools in Beersheba and advised residents to be ready to take shelter at the sound of sirens.
Islamic Jihad said it sought to avenge "the Zionist massacres against our fighters and people" and would continue to fight "until the full liberation of our lands", a reference to Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas has described its attacks, which included the firing of more than two dozen mortar shells and rockets at the weekend, as retaliation for Israeli air strikes. Hamas has at times proposed a long-term truce with Israel.
Netanyahu said Israel sought no further flare-up but would continue to respond to Palestinian attacks.
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