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Rocket fired from Gaza Strip hits southern Israel, officials report

Rocket fired from Gaza Strip hits southern Israel, officials report
Israeli soldiers walk as a siren sounds during an army drill simulating a rocket attack on Israel, at a central bus station, in the southern city of Ashkelon on June 2. (Tsafrir Abayov / Associated Press)

A rocket fired from the Gaza strip struck southern Israel Saturday, according to Israel's military.

The rocket landed in an open area near Ashkelon, a city about 10 miles from the border with Gaza, police and army officials said.

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It was the third such incident in two weeks, raising concerns on both sides of the border of renewed escalation less than a year after Israel and Hamas fought a deadly summer war in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.

The renewed rocket fire poses a challenge to Israel, which has repeatedly vowed zero tolerance and a swift response. It also tests the Hamas rulers of the Gaza strip, locked in a power struggle with local militant Islamic State sympathizers who have claimed responsibility for two of the recent incidents.

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Israel holds Hamas responsible for any fire originating from Gaza and has typically responded with air strikes against Hamas facilities, which are usually evacuated in advance.

At least two batteries of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system were deployed in the south on Friday because of the increase in rocket fire, according to media reports.

Following Saturday's incident, Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni cautioned that Israel's government was facing "the moment of truth" regarding Gaza.

"The calm we thought was restored after the war dissipated faster than we thought," he told reporters. Shimoni said  residents would not be "held hostage" to internal Palestinian struggles and urged the government to curb the trickle of rocket fire before the situation deteriorated.

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Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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