Rocket hits south Israel resort town

Rocket hits south Israel resort town

JERUSALEM - The Associated Press
Rocket hits south Israel resort town

Israeli police stand next to a rocket that landed in the resort town of Eilat, southern Israel, early Thursday, April 5, 2012. AP photo

A rocket hit the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat near the Egyptian and Jordanian borders Thursday, Israeli police said. Rocket launches are rare in this part of Israel and police suspect that it came from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Explosions were heard after midnight in Eilat, a popular tourist destination on the Red Sea that is getting set to welcome thousands of visitors for the Passover holiday.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said no one was injured in the attack and that police were searching for other rockets that may have landed in the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Rosenfeld said the rocket was likely fired from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Israel has been warning of growing lawlessness in Sinai. Weak policing and difficult terrain may be turning the peninsula into the latest focus of Islamic militant activity in the region.

Last year, gunmen 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, if it came from Sinai, would be the first cross-border rocket attack from Egypt since the fall of the Hosni 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.

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.