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Gaza militants fire at Israel during Obama visit

JERUSALEM – Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets on Thursday at southern Israel, on the second day of President Barack Obama’s visit to the region, Israeli police said.

One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a house in the border town of Sderot early in the morning, causing damage but no injuries, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The other landed in an open field.

Obama was miles away in Jerusalem at the time, preparing to visit the Israel Museum. Later in the day he is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited Sderot, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. The militant Islamic group Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 after ousting the rival Palestinian Fatah group in bloody street fighting. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, now govern part of the West Bank only.

“We will be closely watching Palestinian President Abbas today to see if he condemns these attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians,” a senior Israeli government official in Jerusalem said after the attack.

“We noticed that last year when such attacks were going on, he refused to condemn them,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity according to government regulations.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack. Gaza rocket fire on Israel has declined since a military campaign in November, but sporadic attacks persist. Last month a rocket was fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel.

Obama began his 48 hour visit on Wednesday. After a warm welcome at the airport, he viewed an Iron Dome battery that was transported to the airport for his arrival.

The U.S. has invested more than $275 million into the missile defense system and plans to spend another $211 million on it this year. U.S. and Israeli officials credit the Iron Dome with preventing numerous rocket attacks from neighboring Gaza.

During his visit, Obama reiterated Israel’s right to live in security and defend itself.

Code Red sirens wailed in Sderot shortly after the 7 a.m. rocket attack, forcing the town residents who were on their way to work or school to run to bomb shelters.

Yossi Haziza, a Sderot resident in whose courtyard the first rocket exploded, was looking at the walls of his home sprayed with shrapnel and shattered windows.

“I wish this was merely damage to property but my eight year old daughter and my wife are terrified,” Haziza said. “We just want to live in peace. We don’t want to keep having to run to bomb shelters.”

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