JERUSALEM – Three rockets fired from Gaza exploded in an industrial section of the Israeli city of Ashkelon Monday, the military said, causing no casualties but pointing toward an escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza militants.
The latest rocket attack raised Israeli-Palestinian tensions already heightened by Israel's destruction of an old hotel in an Arab east Jerusalem neighborhood to replace it with Jewish housing, pushing peace efforts further away.
In a related development, European Union consuls are recommending that Europe begin relating to east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state now, according to a document prepared for the EU leadership, said an EU official in the West Bank. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the document has not been released.
The rockets hit south of the populated sections of Ashkelon, the military said. In the past, Ashkelon, 6 miles (10 kilometers) north of Gaza, has become a frequent target of Palestinian rocket squads in Gaza when clashes escalate.
Israel has a practice of hitting back for rocket attacks with airstrikes at militant facilities and smuggling tunnels in Gaza. Israel blames Gaza's militant Islamic Hamas rulers for all attacks from the territory, though Hamas claims that smaller splinter groups are behind most of the rocket fire.
The barrage aimed at Ashkelon came just a day after Hamas leaders appealed to the smaller groups to hold their fire. Hamas fears triggering another large-scale Israeli invasion similar to a three-week operation two years ago that killed about 1,400 Palestinians, including many civilians, and caused considerable damage in the impoverished territory.
In another incident Monday, a 65-year-old Gaza man was shot dead by an Israeli guard tower on the border, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia. The military said it had no knowledge of the shooting.
The Gaza incidents came as a historic hotel in east Jerusalem was knocked down to build apartments for Jews after it was bought by a hard-line American Jewish millionaire decades ago. Palestinians object to any Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of their future state. The Palestinians, European Union and U.S. condemned the latest project, saying it undermines hopes for peace.
The millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, a patron of Israeli settlers, bought the Shepherd Hotel in 1985. It was built in the 1930s as the residence of Haj Amin Husseini, who was forced to flee Jerusalem's British rulers at the end of that decade.
Construction permits were granted only last year because of the sensitivity of the site in Sheikh Jarrah, a veteran Arab neighborhood.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday the building was a private project carried out "in accordance with Israeli law."
"There should be no expectation that the state of Israel will impose a ban on Jews purchasing private property in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said in a statement. "No democratic government would impose such a ban on Jews and Israel will certainly not do so."
At the U.N. Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Israeli construction "which only serves to heighten tensions," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the project "contradicts the logic" of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Husseini family on Monday accused the Israeli government of violating its own laws by transferring the property to Moskowitz without payment or an open bidding process.
"We feel that this is a government decision, a political one to put their hand on this place," said family member Adnan Husseini, who is also head Palestinian official for Jerusalem affairs.
The new construction comes as peace talks are stalled over Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians say they will not resume talks without a full settlement freeze that includes east Jerusalem. Netanyahu's government has refused and has called on the Palestinians to restart negotiations without preconditions.