A gas station in southern Israel was struck by Gaza rocket fire and set ablaze on Friday, seriously wounding one person as rockets were also launched from Lebanon for the first time in the four-day offensive.
The attack on the gas station in Ashdod looked to be the most serious attack in Israel in the four days of fighting that has seen Israel deliver a heavy blow to Gaza's Hamas leaders. The military have carried out more than 1,000 strike strikes against Gaza targets that have killed at least 95 people, including dozens of civilians.
The explosion in Ashdod sent plumes of smoke high into the air, leaving a trail of charred vehicles in its wake. Israeli health officials said the blast wounded three people, including one in serious condition. Rocket fire continued in earnest from Gaza toward various locations in southern Israel and around Tel Aviv, according to The Associated Press.
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In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border and the military responded with artillery fire toward the source in southern Lebanon, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
The Lebanese military said three rockets were fired toward Israel around 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) and the Israelis retaliated by firing about 25 artillery shells on the area.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said that one of those suspected of firing the rockets was wounded and rushed to a hospital. The Lebanese military said troops found two rocket launchers and dismantled them.
Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has battled Israel numerous times. However, recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah has not been involved in the ongoing offensive.
A Lebanon-based al-Qaida-linked group, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, claimed responsibility in the past for similar rocket attacks on Israel.
Gaza militants already have fired more than 550 rockets against Israel in the four-day offensive. Israel's "Iron Dome" defense system has intercepted most of those aimed at major cities but some have slipped through.
Frequent air raid sirens sounded across Israel on Friday, including for the first time in the northern city of Haifa. Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets thus far.
Israel launched the Gaza offensive to stop incessant rocket fire that erupted after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in an apparent reprisal attack.
The military says it has hit more than 1,100 targets already, mostly what it identified as rocket-launching sites, bombarding the territory on average every five minutes.
In Gaza, an Israeli airstrike Friday hit the home of a well-known Islamic Jihad leader. Gaza health officials said five people were killed in the strike.
Lerner said the military was doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, calling inhabitants ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks. He said Israeli forces also fire "non-explosive munitions" at roofs as a warning and looks for people to leave before destroying a structure.
Lerner blamed Hamas for the death of innocent bystanders by firing from heavily populated areas.
Israel's military "uses its weapons to defend its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to defend its weapons," he said.
Israeli leaders are mulling whether to launch a ground assault in Gaza to target Hamas. Such a move, though, would likely involve a rise in Palestinian civilian casualties and put Israeli troops at risk as well.
During a ground incursion in early 2009, hundreds of civilians were killed and both sides drew war crimes accusations in a United Nations report
Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to supplement the potential ground operation.
Amos Yadlin, a retired general and former head of military intelligence, said Israel has already re-established a deterrent factor against Hamas and should offer a cease-fire and aim to wrap up its campaign in the coming days.
"If the Israeli offer is turned down, Israel will refill its stock of legitimacy in such a way that will enable a significant expansion of the objectives and scale of the operation," he wrote in a column published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper. "Hamas has taken severe blows since the start of the round of violence and has failed in almost every step it took. ... However, one rocket that hits an Israeli population center will be enough to change the picture completely."
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