An Israeli was killed on Thursday when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a kibbutz in southern Israel, the army and medics said, in an attack claimed by the armed wing of Hamas.
The home-made Qassam-style rocket hit an industral zone in the Nir Oz kibbutz east of the southern Gaza Strip, an army spokeswoman said.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas which has ruled Gaza for almost a year, claimed responsibility.
“There is one dead and four wounded — three seriously,” said Itzik Elfassi, deputy head of the Magen David Adom emergency service in the Negev.
Kibbutz official Haim Dery told reporters three rockets were fired, and that the first hit a local cemetery.
“The second struck the factory perimeter. There was a lot of panic, and as the people poured out the third rocket hit” beside a warehouse, causing the casualties, Dery said. The casualties were all Israeli, he added.
Haim Yelin, chairman of the regional Eshkol council, condemned the attack.
“For seven years we have lived under the threat of deadly mortar and rocket fire, and it is a situation that continues today,” he told AFP.
“We demand that the government do something to address this, and stop concerning itself with Olmert and envelopes.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, currently in the United States, is suspected of unlawfully obtaining vast sums of money stuffed into envelopes from a US financier before becoming premier in 2006.
Sixteen people in southern Israel have been killed by rocket or mortar fire from the impoverished territory since the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in September 2000.
Violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups has continued in Gaza despite efforts by Egypt to mediate a truce.
In all at least 488 people, nearly all Palestinians and mostly Gaza militants, have been killed since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in November, according to an AFP count.
On Monday, Olmert warned that the army would launch a large-scale operation in Gaza if militants did not stop their attacks.
Thursday’s strike comes after Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a new message urging Gaza militants to escalate attacks on Israel over its crippling siege of the territory.
“Do not give up … increase your martyrdom attacks, the number of rockets you launch and your ambushes. There is no other solution,” Zawahiri said in the Internet message marking the anniversary of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, seized power last June, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
On Wednesday, Abbas reached out to his rivals, calling for reconciliation talks based on an agreement signed in Yemen between his Fatah movement and Hamas in March.
“I call for a comprehensive national dialogue based on the Yemeni initiative,” Abbas said, pledging to seek Arab and international support for an initiative he said was aimed at “re-establishing the unity of our people.”
Hamas’s first reaction was favourable, with the group’s supremo in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, expected to give his official response later on Thursday, his spokesman said.
As well as restoring the national unity government in power before the Hamas takeover and the re-establishment of the Palestinian leadership’s authority over Gaza, the Yemeni initiative also provides for early elections.