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      'Improved' Grad Rocket on Ashkelon - Shock Victims and Damage

      A powerful rocket hit an Ashkelon school and returned Israel to the days before Cast Lead, causing damage and sending people into shock.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 2/28/2009, 7:30 PM

      Israel News Photo: Flash 90

      An "improved" Grad rocket struck an Ashkelon school Saturday morning, returning Israel to the days before the Cast Lead operation that was carried out to end the terrorist strikes. The rocket caused extensive damage and forced the hospitalization of several people in the area for trauma.

      The missile was more powerful than previous models, and the one that hit the school broke through the fortifications designed to protect students and teachers from an attack. The school was closed because of the Sabbath, preventing a tragedy, and officials canceled classes at the school for Sunday. 

      A second rocket exploded in an open field at the edge of the city. Three other attacks took place on the Sabbath. A Kassam rocket struck the Eshkol region on Saturday morning, and two Kassam rockets hit Sderot Friday night. Another Kassam hit the southern Negev Saturday night. None of the explosions caused damage or injuries.

      The Olmert administration, with the encouragement of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, ended the three-week-long Operation Cast Lead in mid-January with the declaration that the rocket attacks from Gaza had been reduced to near zero. Livni also reached a “Memo of Understanding” with the United States by which advanced technology and international monitors were to be stationed at the Egyptian border to prevent terrorists from smuggling arms into Gaza.

      Channel 2 television reported Thursday night that long-range rockets are being brought into Gaza through tunnels along the border and that Israeli bombing of several tunnels, in retaliation for rocket attacks, is having little effect.

      Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has claimed that a virtual ceasefire exists in Gaza while his government continues to mediate talks between Israel and Hamas for a longer-term ceasefire.
       
      In Cairo, Egypt reported rapid progress in talks between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions for a new unity government, which would force Israel and Western nations to accept the Palestinian Authority led by chairman Mahmoud Abbas despite its inclusion of Hamas, or boycott it because of Hamas’s participation.