Militants fire on Israeli city as Gaza violence spirals

The first rocket slammed into the centre of Beersheva around dawn, moderately injuring one man, while the second, which was fired several hours later, landed harmlessly in an open area, police said.

The army said seven mortars had also landed in Israel. Beersheba is about 40 kilometres from Gaza, and much further away than the Israeli cities regularly targeted by Palestinian militants.

Another Grad rocket hit the outskirts of the city on February 23, but this was the first time since the 2008-9 war that such a projectile had landed in the middle of the city, home to 186,000 people.

The Al Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad's armed wing, claimed responsibility for both attacks as well as for the overnight firing of another Grad rocket towards the southern port city of Ashdod. A spokesman for the group vowed that the militants would fire rockets at cities deep inside Israel as it entered "a new phase" of resistance.

Grad rockets have a longer range than mortars or the crude, homemade Qassams normally used by Gaza militants, and can travel up to 50 kilometres. During the morning, the Israeli air force targeted militants on the eastern side of Gaza City, but no-one was injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

Over the last week, there has been a significant increase in Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory air strikes, which have ramped up tensions between Israel and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers and raised fears of a large-scale Israeli military incursion.

Today's attacks came a day after Israel mounted a series of raids on targets in the eastern sector of Gaza City, killing eight people. All eight, two of whom were minors, were to be buried following a collective funeral in central Gaza City at midday, with officials from Gaza's Hamas leadership declaring a day of mourning.

Four of the dead were militants from the Al Quds Brigades whom the army said were trying to fire rockets towards Israel from the Zeitun neighbourhood. Several hours earlier, four civilians had been killed in the nearby district of Shejaiya when Israeli artillery fired towards a house outside which a group of youngsters had been playing football, Palestinian medics said.

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