JERUSALEM – At least 14 people were injured, including 2 children, when a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in a shopping mall in southern Israel Wednesday, just as the Israeli prime minister was warning against such attacks.
The rocket struck the top floor of the Hutzot Shopping Center in Ashkelon, trapping several people under rubble, the Jerusalem Post reported.
A hospital official said a woman and her young daughter were seriously wounded, along with another child. Another woman was seriously wounded, and several other people were slightly wounded, said the official, Leah Malul of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Two militant groups, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad and the Hamas-linked Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility. Earlier Wednesday, five Palestinians were killed in Israeli military operations in Gaza.
Rescue service director Eli Bean said a young girl was among the wounded. Witnesses told Israeli radio stations that the rocket caused considerable damage.
The rocket attack Wednesday afternoon came as U.S. President George W. Bush wrapped up talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Following the meeting with Bush, Olmert told Reuters that the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip must halt attacks on Israel or risk military action on a hitherto unseen scale.
The homemade rockets militants usually fire at Israel do not have enough range to reach Ashkelon. Instead, militants use Grad-type rockets to hit the city of 100,000 people, about 9 miles from the Gaza-Israel border.
Israel believes Islamic Jihad is getting the Grads from Iran. "It's part of the Iranian war against Israel," Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israel Radio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.