SDEROT, Israel (AP) — A Palestinian rocket slammed into a
street in this southern Israeli town yesterday, killing two
preschool children playing in a yard as Israelis ushered in the
fall harvest festival of Sukkot.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon phoned Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and
told him that “Israel will respond” to the attack, a
government official said.

The rocket attack came in defiance of a major Israeli raid into
the nearby Gaza Strip aimed at rooting out militants behind an
unending wave of rocket attacks in recent weeks. The raid, which
began late Tuesday, killed four Palestinians and wounded 46 others,
Palestinian hospital officials said.

In response to the Sderot attack, Israeli security officials
said they would broaden the operation in northern Gaza; an Israeli
helicopter strike near a Gaza refugee camp killed one Palestinian
militant and wounded another.

Elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, seven Palestinians,
including a 14-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli army fire.

The government official said Sharon promised Moyal that the
military would make it more difficult for Palestinians to launch
missiles at the border town. The official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity, did not give details.

The rocket slammed into a quiet street early yesterday evening,
just as Sukkot was beginning. Most residents in the neighborhood
are immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

The blast blew out the windows of a house, showered a minibus
with shrapnel and killed two children of Ethiopian descent. Dorit
Benesay, 2, and Yuval Abeva, 4, were playing under an olive tree
outside Yuval’s grandmother’s house when the rocket
struck, emergency workers and neighbors said.

“After the rocket fell, a man, maybe 20 years old, took
the boy in his arms. He was in shock. He ran with the boy, he
didn’t know what to do,” said Zina Shurov, 48, a
neighbor. “I saw the boy, he had no legs.”

The homemade Qassam rocket was the 30th to hit Israeli
communities in the past month and the 14th to hit Sderot in that
time, according to the Israeli army.

“We live from Qassam to Qassam. The situation gets worse
and worse every day,” said Mordecai Moyal, a Sderot
resident.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the
rocket attack in a statement on its website, and the group said it
would not abandon the rocket attacks.

“We will continue with this honorable battle until we
achieve either victory or martyrdom,” Nizar Rayan, a local
Hamas leader, said in Jebaliya.

The violence highlighted the failure so far of Israel’s
increasingly intense efforts against militants firing the rockets
from Gaza. The militants have been intensifying anti-Israel attacks
ahead of the Jewish state’s announced pullout from Gaza
scheduled for next year.

The rockets are inaccurate and often ineffective, but they have
created fear in Israeli border towns. A previous attack in June
killed two Israelis in Sderot.

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