Hamas Islamists fired long-range rockets at a southern Israel city on Friday after an Israeli air strike on their Gaza stronghold in the 11th day of skirmishes that threaten a five-month-old truce.
The armed wing of the Islamist group said it fired five Grad rockets, the longest-range weapon it has used against the Jewish state. Israel said they hit Ashkelon, north of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast, with no casualties.
Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the flare-up since November 4, in which 12 Hamas militants have been killed by Israeli forces and scores of rockets fired into Israel. But both shied away from declaring an end to the Egyptian-brokered truce.
“We will continue to forcefully defend Israeli soldiers and citizens, to thwart attempts to stage attacks when we discover them,” Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said. “At the same time, if the other side wants to continue the calm we will definitely give it positive consideration.”
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Hamas took a similar stand.
“Up to this moment we are committed to the cease-fire,” said Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader. “Self-defence and resistance” would continue. “We are waiting for the Israelis. If they are really committed (to a truce) we have to address that frankly.”
The 1960s-era Soviet-made Grad rocket has a range of 25 km (15 miles). Two of them struck Ashkelon.