- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military fired at Palestinian militants in Gaza yesterday, killing three persons, after a rocket hit a house in a battered Israeli border town just as President Bush began his Middle East peace mission.

Palestinians fired at least 13 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza at Israel, and at least eight exploded in Israel, police said. Two hit houses in Sderot, just half a mile from the Gaza border fence, a frequent target of the crude, homemade Gaza projectiles.

The Israeli military hit back after both rocket strikes in the town. Before Mr. Bush arrived, the military said it targeted three militants who fired rockets at Israel, and Palestinian medics said one was killed. Another six persons were wounded.

One rocket hit the home of Sderot resident Danny Dahan. Speaking from the hospital where he was treated for shock, he told Army Radio that he had several close calls in recent years. In yesterday’s attack, the rocket tore through the ceiling and landed on his son’s bed.

“Rockets have been raining on this town for years and no one is doing anything,” a sobbing Mr. Dahan told the radio. He did not suffer serious injuries.

Just after Mr. Bush arrived in Israel at midday, another rocket exploded in Sderot, hitting a house. No one was hurt, police said.

The military hit back with ground fire, aiming for the rocket squad. Palestinian hospital officials said two civilians were killed, a woman and a young man. Four persons were wounded.

Palestinian militants have been firing rockets and mortars at Israel nearly every day for months. The small, primitive projectiles cause little damage and few casualties, but they have badly disrupted life in Israeli towns and villages around Gaza.

Defense officials said army commanders were instructed to scale back operations against Gaza militants while Mr. Bush was in the area.

After militants fired a higher-power, longer-range Katyusha rocket at an Israeli city last week, Israel stepped up its counterstrikes in Gaza, targeting buildings that the military said were used by militants. Until then, Israel’s strikes were pinpoint operations aimed at rocket squads and commanders of militant groups.

In Gaza yesterday, thousands of Islamic Hamas supporters chanted, “Death to America,” and watched an effigy of Mr. Bush go up in flames, as they protested the U.S. president’s visit to Israel and the West Bank.

A shadowy al Qaeda-inspired group appeared in public for the first time with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and uttered vague threats against U.S. targets.

About 20 masked supporters of the group, the so-called “Army of the Nation,” displayed weapons in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

A spokesman for the group, who gave only his nom de guerre, Abu Hafs, said Mr. Bush was “not welcome” in the Palestinian territories. “We are coming, not to Bush in Tel Aviv, but God willing to Washington,” he said.

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