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Rockets from Gaza hit Israel during Obama's visit

world Updated: Mar 21, 2013 12:37 IST
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Two rockets fired by militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Thursday hit southern Israel as US President Barack Obama was visiting the Jewish state, police said.

"One exploded in the back yard of a house in Sderot, causing damage, and the second landed in a field," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, referring to a town very close to the Gaza border, which was visited by Obama on a previous trip in 2008 when he was a senator.

Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday for his first visit since being elected president and was expected to travel to Ramallah on Thursday morning for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Military officials cited by army radio said they believed the attack was timed deliberately to coincide with the Obama visit.

On his previous visit to Sderot, Obama had voiced his support for Israel's refusal to negotiate with the Islamist Hamas movement, which is Abbas' rival Palestinian faction and has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007.

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything in my power to stop that," he said.

Sderot mayor David Bushkila told Israeli army radio that his town "served as a punchbag for Hamas and other terrorist groups, which wanted (with the latest attack) to tell Obama he was not welcome in the region."

It was only the second such rocket attack since the end of a deadly eight-day confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants in November which ended with an Egypt-brokered truce that has been almost completely respected.

On February 26, militants fired a single rocket which hit near the southern coastal town of Ashkelon in an attack they said was to protest against the death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody following interrogation.

During the eight days of bloodshed in November, which cost the lives of 177 Palestinians and six Israelis, the army said 933 rockets hit Israel, while another 421 were intercepted in mid-air by the US-funded Iron Dome air anti-missile system.

Obama visited the vaunted Iron Dome system shortly after arriving in the country on Wednesday afternoon.