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Rocket Hits Israeli City near Egypt Border

Thursday, 05 April 2012 09:20 AM EDT

JERUSALEM (AP) — A rocket hit the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat near the Egyptian and Jordanian borders Thursday, officials said. Israeli police said it was probably fired from Egypt's Sinai and the prime minister said the attack meant that the mountainous peninsula was becoming a "terror zone."

There were no injuries reported in the overnight strike against the normally tranquil Red Sea vacation spot. Eilat is set to welcome thousands of visitors this weekend for the Passover holiday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Israel has been warning of growing lawlessness in Sinai following the uprising last year that overthrew the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Israeli officials say weak policing and difficult terrain may be turning the peninsula into the latest focus of Islamic militant activity in the region.

"We are seeing now with Eilat that the Sinai Peninsula is turning into a terror zone," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the attack. "We cannot grant immunity to terror, we must fight against it."

Egyptian security forces and military aircraft were searching southeastern Sinai for militants believed to be behind the launch, Egyptian security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Last year, gunmen from the Sinai infiltrated into Israel and ambushed vehicles on a desert highway, killing eight Israelis in a brazen, coordinated attack.

Israel accused Palestinian militants from Gaza of crossing westward into Sinai, making their way along the Israel-Egypt border and crossing back eastward into Israel to carry out the attack.

That incident suggested that Egypt's political upheaval and the resulting power vacuum allowed Gaza militants with allies in Sinai to open a new front against Israel on its long-quiet frontier with Egypt.

Rockets are regularly fired into Israel by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, but launches from Egyptian territory are rare.

Thursday's launch appeared to be the first cross-border rocket attack from Egypt since the fall of the Mubarak regime last year. Rockets last hit Eilat and the nearby Jordanian town of Aqaba in 2010, killing one person and injuring four.

In a bid to halt the entry of both militants and illegal migrants, Israel has stepped up surveillance on the Egyptian border and is building an electronic barrier along the 230-kilometer (150-mile) frontier. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Netanyahu acknowledged the fence "does not stop rockets," but that "a solution will be found" to rockets from Egypt.

Israel has been battling rocket fire from Gaza with a short-range rocket interceptor, the Iron Dome. It was not immediately clear if there were plans to position a mechanism near the Egyptian border.

Most militant attacks in Sinai are directed against Egyptian government targets, including police facilities and a natural gas pipeline that supplies Israel and Jordan. Islamic radicals who fled Egyptian prisons during the chaos surrounding last year's revolution sought asylum in Sinai, hooking up with disgruntled tribes and militant groups that already had built strongholds there.

Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but with the rise of Islamist parties who traditionally view Israel with hostility, Israel has become concerned that the accord may be under threat.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party in Egypt's parliament, does not openly oppose the peace deal with Israel, but has said it would consider amending the pact to allow more Egyptian troops along the border with Israel. The deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai is limited under the 1979 deal.

© Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, 05 April 2012 09:20 AM
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