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Rocket strikes mall in Israeli city; at least 14 wounded

  • Story Highlights
  • A mother and child sustained serious injuries and were taken to a hospital
  • Islamic Jihad sources said the militant group claims responsibility for the attack
  • Egypt targets agreement between Israel and Gaza's Hamas leaders to quell violence
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A rocket hit a shopping mall center on Wednesday in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, wounding at least 14 people -- including a mother and an infant -- the Israeli military and emergency officials said.

The mother and child sustained serious injuries and were taken to a hospital, the officials said. Another person was seriously injured, two sustained moderate injuries, and the rest of the injuries were minor, the officials said.

Islamic Jihad sources said the militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Israel always holds Gaza's Hamas leadership responsible for attacks carried out by militants in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad is a militant group that operates in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas leaders. Hamas operates a separate militant group called the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Later Wednesday, an Israeli air strike hit a group of armed men in northern Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Palestinian authorities said two militants were killed.

Israeli police identified the missile that hit Ashkelon as a Grad rocket, which has a longer range than the Qassam rockets frequently used by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Windows of the mall were blown out by the impact. People streamed out of the mall as orange-vested rescue workers went inside. Video showed them carrying out one person on a stretcher. Crowds of people lined the streets amid a line of ambulances.

A rescue worker put his arm around a crying boy, and people frantically made cell phone calls.

A police spokesman said police are combing the rubble to see whether anyone is trapped.

The attack came as President Bush meets with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish state's 60th anniversary, and hours after Israeli military operations in Gaza killed four Palestinians, Palestinian medical and security sources said.

There has been a steady increase in rocket and mortar launchings from Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory last year.

A rocket strike on Monday killed an Israeli woman and a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday killed an Israeli man.

Militants in Gaza have launched approximately 2,000 mortars and rockets since the start of 2008, about the same number as were launched in all of 2007.

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The Israeli military responds to the attacks by carrying out airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza that target militants, but often lead to civilian casualties -- further inflaming the Palestinian leadership. It was not clear whether the attack that killed the two Palestinian militants in northern Gaza was in retaliation for Wednesday's rocket strike.

Egypt is trying to negotiate an agreement between Israel and Gaza's Hamas leaders to quell the tit-for-tat violence, which threatens a broader attempt by Israel to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

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