Israel pledges response to missile attack from Gaza

Sat, Jul 31, 2010, 01:00

ISRAEL HAS vowed to respond to yesterday's firing of a missile from Gaza into the southern city of Ashkelon.

No one was hurt in the morning attack but cars and apartment buildings were damaged, and eight people were treated for shock when the Grad missile hit a residential neighbourhood in the coastal city, 7 miles (12km) north of Gaza. Two mortar bombs were fired into Israel later in the day.

Ashkelon mayor Benny Vaknin said it was a miracle that no one was hurt, and called on the government to step up measures to provide fortified classrooms before schools reopen in September.

Katyusha-style Grad missiles have a longer range and greater accuracy than the crude Qassam rockets made in Gaza. Four have been fired into Israel since the end of the Gaza war in 2008-2009.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Israeli security sources believed one of the smaller Palestinian factions fired the missile - not Hamas, which controls Gaza. The sources warned militants have smuggled longer-range projectiles into Gaza via Egypt, and have the capability to hit much deeper into Israel.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he viewed the attack with the utmost gravity. A foreign ministry official said Israel will choose when and how to respond. Israel strikes at Gaza in response to almost every militant attack, usually at smuggling tunnels near the Egyptian border.

United Nations Middle East envoy Robert Serry said indiscriminate rocket fire against civilians was completely unacceptable, and constituted a terrorist attack.

"Violent actions must not be allowed to undermine progress in the ongoing talks between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

The attack came as Hamas and Islamic Jihad criticised Thursday's Arab League decision granting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a green light to enter direct talks with Israel when he determines the conditions are right.

Mr Netanyahu said he was "willing to begin direct and candid talks with the Palestinian Authority in the upcoming days".

Israeli officials predicted the Palestinians would delay any word on direct talks. In September Israel's 10-month freeze on settlement construction ends. The Palestinians would like to see the moratorium extended as part of a deal to enter direct talks, even though Mr Netanyahu warned that continuing the freeze would mean the break-up of his coalition government.