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Rocket fire shatters the peace in Israel

A ROCKET fired from Gaza landed in the Israeli city of Ashkelon yesterday as delegates from Hamas met in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials striving to mediate a long-term truce with Israel.

The long-range Grad rocket was the first of its kind to be fired at the city of 122,000 since informal cease-fires were declared separately by Israel and Hamas two weeks ago at the end of Israel's bruising three-week-long offensive in Gaza. The rocket landed in an open space in the middle of the city and no one was injured, police said.

On Monday, an Israeli aircraft struck a car traveling in the southern Gaza Strip, killing a Palestinian militant.

Following a closed meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak later yesterday, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev repeated the government's warning of grave consequences if rocket fire continued.

"Hamas is playing with fire and they alone will be responsible for the destruction of the quiet," Regev said. "The whole international community will understand that if there is a new escalation that will be the direct result of Hamas' extremist, irresponsible and nihilistic behavior."

Barak pledged that if Hamas held its fire Israel would do likewise, while violence would be met by violence. "If there is quiet then there will be quiet," he told reporters during a tour of northern Israel's border with Lebanon. "If it is necessary to deal another, even stronger, blow then, at the right time and in the right way, an additional and stronger blow will be dealt."

He went on to issue a warning to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which Israel believes is planning an attack on Israel or Israelis abroad to mark the February 12 anniversary of the killing of a senior Hezbollah commander in a car bombing the militia blames on Israel.

Residents of the southern Gaza town of Rafah said later that they received telephone messages from the Israeli military warning them to leave their homes ahead of an impending airstrike.


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