After months of calm, rocket slams into Ashkelon

Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade says missile shot as revenge for death of Palestinian prisoner; UN rep ‘troubled’ by fire

A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip at Ashkelon early Tuesday morning, breaking months of quiet between Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for firing the rocket later Tuesday, saying it was retaliation for Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat’s death in an Israeli prison on Saturday. The terrorist group, associated with Fatah, had published a leaflet on Monday urging a harsh response against Israel for Jaradat’s death.

The rocket hit a road in an industrial area in the south of the city around 7 a.m., according to Channel 10 news. There were no injuries, although the road was damaged.

Visiting the south of the country later Tuesday, President Shimon Peres said maintaining cross-border quiet was in the interest of both sides. “We prefer quiet to rocket fire. Quiet will be met with quiet,” said Peres, but a resumption of rocket fire would be met “in the appropriate manner.”

The rocket was an upgraded Fajr-5 missile — or M75 — with a range of 70 kilometers (over 40 miles). In response to the rocket fire, Israel temporarily curtailed operations at two Gaza border crossings.

Residents of the southern city reported hearing two blasts and authorities were checking to see if two missiles were in fact fired at the city. There were no warning sirens sounded to alert people in the area.

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The rocket was reportedly fired from Rafah in the southern strip, and was the same type used by Hamas in November in attempts to hit Jerusalem, according to Army Radio.

According to the report, Hamas tightly controls the border city of Rafah, which is home to several smugglign tunnels into Egypt, indicating the rocket fire was done with the Strip’s rulers knowledge.

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by “resumed indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza.”

The resuming fire from the strip is “totally unacceptable,” he said in a press release.

“Today’s developments only underscore the importance of ongoing Egyptian efforts to solidify the truce brokered last November, which UNSCO will continue to support.”

An official said Ashkelon schools would be open in the city as normal.

“We hope this was a one-time event,” he told Israel Radio. “We are always preparing.”

Rocket fire out of Gaza halted after Israel and Hamas agreed to end hostilities after the Operation Pillar of Defense mini-war in November.

The rocket fire represents the opening up of a second front between Israel and the Palestinians, after the West Bank heated up over the past several days over the death of Jaradat.

Troops have clashed with rock-throwing Palestinians in a number of areas around the West Bank and many Palestinians have called for revenge. The Palestinian Authority claimed Sunday that Israel tortured Jaradat to death. Israel said he died of heart failure.

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