Palestinian militants hit Israeli city with rocket

Palestinian militants hit an Israeli city with a rocket from Gaza for the first time on Tuesday, causing no casualties but drawing a pledge of harsh retaliation from Israel, already in the midst of a military offensive.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the rocket fire on the coastal city of Ashkelon a "major escalation," coming just hours after a deadline set by the militants hold an Israeli soldier passed with Israel rejecting demands to release Palestinian prisoners.

The rocket flew 12 kilometers (7 miles) through the air and exploded in the courtyard of a school in Ashkelon, a city of 110,000 on Israel's seacoast north of Gaza. School security cameras showed a large cloud of white dust rising from the point of impact. The school was empty at the time and no one was hurt.

Early Wednesday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a Hamas camp in central Gaza, Palestinians and the Israeli military said. No casualties were reported.

Though militants have fired many of the small, homemade rockets in the direction of Ashkelon, this was the first one to hit the heart of the city, displaying a longer range than most previous ones and bringing the threat of rocket barrages to a major Israeli population center for the first time.

In the hours before the rocket attack, Israeli forces were already operating in northern Gaza with a mission of looking for tunnels, explosives, weapons warehouses and other facilities used by militants, according to the area army commander.

However, the troops stayed outside from Palestinian towns, as they have since Israel started its offensive in Gaza a week ago. Olmert indicated that might change in response to the rocket attack on Ashkelon, reports AP.