Violence flares as Bush marks Israel's anniversary
On his second trip to Israel, President Bush will address the issue of settlement building and try to push for progress on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Bush landed here Wednesday to join the Jewish state in its 60th anniversary gala – part of his drive to propel Israelis and Palestinians toward a landmark peace deal.Skip to next paragraph
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But hours after his arrival, a rocket launched by Gaza militants landed on a shopping mall in Ashkelon, Israel's southernmost city on the Mediterranean coast, injuring more than 30 people and highlighting the challenge facing Mr. Bush as he tries to push forward negotiations on a two-state solution.
Earlier in the day, Israeli military strikes in Gaza killed two Palestinian civilians and three militants, the Associated Press reported, quoting Palestinian medical officials.
The volley of violence follows weeks of international efforts to get Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, to agree to some kind of truce or calm in which both would promise to stop firing at the other for a limited period of time.
But Israeli leaders say they worry that such a temporary time-out will only give Hamas a period of time to build up its arsenal and prepare for the next round. And Hamas, for its part, has refused to link this proposed deal to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who Hamas has held captive in Gaza for almost two years.
Moreover, Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committee – a group that includes militants in Hamas – took responsibility for Wednesday's shopping mall strike. Islamic Jihad has shown itself even more reluctant to agree a period of calm with Israel. Egyptian mediators have for weeks been trying to forge some agreement, so far without clear success.
Israeli analysts have said in recent weeks that an attack on an Israeli civilian center – particularly a place other than the small and rocket-scarred Sderot – would be a reason for the Israeli army to launch a major military invasion in Gaza. Wednesday's attack on Ashkelon brought hundreds of people into the streets nearby, many of them demanding a response from the government.