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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

Israeli military: Rocket from Gaza hits Israel


JERUSALEM  — Palestinian militants fired a rocket into southern Israel on Sunday, while Israeli troops killed two Palestinians in a fresh wave of violence along the volatile border with Gaza.

The violence came a day after Palestinian militants fired some 50 mortar shells into Israel — the heaviest Palestinian assault since a bruising Israeli military offensive two years ago.

Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers have largely honored an informal cease-fire since the 2009 war, in which the Islamic militant group suffered heavy losses. Israel says the Iranian-backed Hamas has recovered, and a pattern of rocket attacks and Israeli reprisals has gained steam in recent weeks.

The Hamas-allied Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for Sunday's rocket attack, which caused no injuries or damage.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said a 22-year-old man in Gaza suffered moderate shrapnel wounds from Israeli tank fire after the rocket attack. The Israeli military said militants fired upon troops patroling the Gaza-Israel border, and troops returned fire, identifying one hit.

Abu Salmia said rescue teams also recovered the bodies of two Palestinian men who were killed overnight along the border. There were no details on their identities, and the military had no comment.

Hamas has signaled it is not interested in renewing major violence with Israel since the 2009 offensive. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed in the fighting, in addition to 13 Israelis.

Most violence emanating out of Gaza since then has been carried out by smaller rivals to Hamas. But the Islamic group claimed responsibility for some of Saturday's mortar fire, which slightly wounded two Israelis.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing power in a five-day civil war against the rival Fatah movement in 2007. As a wave of pro-democracy unrest reverberates through the region, both sides have faced growing calls to reconcile. Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, controls only the West Bank.

On Saturday, Hamas assaulted protesters and journalists at a demonstration calling for reconciliation. New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized Hamas for Saturday's crackdown, as well as a similar attack at another demonstration last Tuesday.

"It is a dismal reflection on Hamas that it is violently cracking down on peaceful demonstrators calling for political reconciliation," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. "This is just the latest instance of Hamas assaulting Palestinians' fundamental freedoms."

Last week, Abbas pledged he would travel to Gaza to meet with Hamas leaders there in a renewed bid for reconciliation. Previous attempts to reconcile the two dueling factions have failed.

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