An Israeli woman died of wounds sustained yesterday morning in a Palestinian rocket attack on the southern town of Sderot, a hospital official said.
The woman was one of two civilians critically injured when the rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed on a street in Sderot, said Leah Malul, a spokeswoman for Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Several other passersby were slightly wounded by shrapnel in the attack on Sderot, a frequent target of Palestinian rocket fire.
It was the first time since July last year that Palestinian rockets have killed Israelis in towns and villages that border Gaza. The attack is likely to trigger a sharp army response.
The armed wing of the ruling Hamas Islamist movement said it fired four rockets at Sderot and claimed responsibility for the death, saying it was in response to Israeli shelling last week that killed 19 Palestinian civilians. The Islamic Jihad militant group said it had launched two rockets.
"The Zionist enemy has admitted a Zionist was killed as a result of the Qassam Brigades bombardment of Sderot," the Hamas armed wing said in a statement released.
Israel said it would respond.
"Palestinian rocket launchers take aim at Israeli civilians. We will not tolerate such attacks and will take whatever steps are necessary to neutralize this threat," said David Baker, an official in the Israeli prime minister's office.
Emergency services said the rocket that caused the casualties hit a street in a residential area. They said the woman was around 70 years old.
Residents said the seriously wounded person, a man, worked as a security guard at the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in the working-class town. An Israeli news Web site said one rocket also landed close to Peretz's home.
The emergency services said rockets had also fallen on a nearby Israeli village. No one was wounded in that attack.
Israel's army has carried out repeated raids into Gaza in recent months to try to halt the militant rocket fire.
Last week 19 Palestinian civilians were killed in an artillery barrage on the town of Beit Hanoun, which borders Sderot.
Israel said the barrage was aimed at areas used by militants to fire rockets but went off course due to a technical failure. Hamas and other armed groups had vowed revenge.
Palestinian militants have fired around 300 makeshift rockets into southern Israel since the start of the year. The missiles rarely hurt anyone but cause widespread panic and often spark calls for a tough Israeli military response.
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that Israel should be prepared to widen its military operations in Gaza because of the growing strength of Hamas and other militant groups.