JERUSALEM » A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck Israel today as tensions are mounting in the region weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said remains of the rocket were found south of the city of Ashkelon, in southern Israel. The attack caused damage to a road but no injuries, he said. It was the first such projectile from the Palestinian territory to hit Israel since Israel-Gaza hostilities last November.
The rocket fire came one day after Israeli troops injured two Palestinian teenagers near a holy site close to Bethlehem, during one of the many demonstrations Palestinians in the West Bank have staged in recent days.
Initially, West Bank street protests broke out in support of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, particularly in support of four inmates on lengthy hunger strikes. Then, over the weekend, a Palestinian prisoner who was not on hunger strike died under disputed circumstances, prompting more demonstrations.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have traded barbs, each side saying the other is trying to exploit the latest unrest for political gains.
A statement from the Palestinian president’s office said President Mahmoud Abbas instructed Palestinian security officials Monday night to preserve security and order in the West Bank, but placed the blame on Israel for “dragging the area into violence and chaos.”
Adnan Damiri, the spokesman of the Palestinian security apparatus, said Palestinian officials were committed to prevent fighting, saying that his forces had recently detained members of the militant Hamas group who were planning “violent confrontations.”
“The only one(s) seeking violence in West Bank is Netanyahu and Hamas, but we will not be dragged to that,” said Damiri. “Our struggle will always be peaceful.”
The clashes come weeks before Obama is scheduled to arrive in Israel and the West Bank, his first presidential visit to the region. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. has asked Israeli and Palestinian officials to exercise “maximum restraint” at this time of high tension in the West Bank.
“All parties should seriously consider the consequences of their actions, particularly at this very difficult moment,” Ventrell said Monday.
An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military policy, said protestors gathered Monday and hurled “improvised hand grenades” towards a holy site in the Bethlehem area, endangering Israeli worshippers inside.
Soldiers responded by firing at the legs of a Palestinian throwing grenades, lightly wounding him. Later, soldiers fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, seriously injuring one Palestinian who was then rushed to an Israeli hospital, the official said.
Palestinian medical officials said two Palestinian youths, one 13 years old and one 16, were seriously wounded by live fire. Palestinian medic Abdelhaleem Jaarah said the 16-year-old, Odai Sarhan, was hit in the head and rushed to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem.
Etti Dvir, spokeswoman for Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, said doctors operated overnight on the boy and that he was in critical condition.