JERUSALEM - The Israeli military fired at Palestinian militants in Gaza yesterday, killing three people in response to two rocket attacks on a battered Israeli border town just as President Bush began his Mideast peace mission.
In all, Palestinians fired at least 13 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza at Israel, and at least eight exploded in Israel, police said. Two hit houses in Sderot, half a mile from the Gaza border fence and a frequent target of homemade Gaza projectiles.
One rocket hit the home of Danny Dahan. Speaking from the hospital where he was treated for shock, he told Army Radio he had several close calls in recent years. In yesterday's attack, the rocket tore through the ceiling and landed on his son's bed.
"Rockets have been raining on this town for years and no one is doing anything," a sobbing Dahan told the radio. He did not suffer serious injuries.
No one was hurt when a rocket struck the second house later in the day, police said.
The Israeli military hit back after both rocket attacks. In its first strike, the Israeli military said it targeted three militants who had fired rockets, and Palestinian medics said one was killed. Another six people were wounded.
After the second Palestinian attack, Israeli soldiers retaliated with ground fire, aiming for the rocket squad. Palestinian hospital officials said two civilians were killed, a woman and a young man. Four people were wounded.
Palestinian militants have been firing rockets and mortars at Israel nearly every day for months. The small, primitive projectiles cause little damage and few casualties, but they have seriously disrupted life in Israeli towns near Gaza.
Last week, militants fired a longer-range Katyusha rocket at an Israeli city and Israel intensified its counterstrikes in Gaza, targeting buildings the military said were used by militants. Until then, Israel's strikes were pinpoint operations aimed at rocket squads and commanders of militant groups.
Before the Bush visit, however, Israeli defense officials said army commanders were instructed to scale back operations against Gaza militants while the president was in the area.
In Gaza yesterday, thousands of Islamic Hamas supporters chanted "Death to America!" and watched an effigy of Bush burn as they protested his visit to Israel and the West Bank.