A rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip struck a shopping mall in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon late Wednesday, wounding at least 14 people, some severely. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the attack took place as President Bush was holding talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.
The rocket slammed into a shopping mall in the southern city of Ashkelon, destroying a clinic on the top floor of the complex. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says the damage was extensive and the rocket caused serious injuries.
"There was extensive damage to the upper floors as the mall took a direct hit," he said. "The rocket that was fired was a Grad rocket and we can see on the scene the top floor and the southern part of the building have extensive damage. Unfortunately at least three people were injured seriously, including a mother and her daughter."
There were conflicting claims of responsibility following the attack, with the militant group Islamic Jihad and two other smaller groups saying they carried it out. The attack came as Israeli military forces carried out operations in Gaza that killed at least five Palestinians.
Israeli officials say Palestinian militants in Gaza are getting the Grad rockets from Iran. Until recently Ashkelon, a city of more than 100,000 people was out of range of the rockets. Palestinian militants have long targeted the smaller city of Sderot which sits on the Gaza border with homemade rockets known as Qassams.
Rockets fired from Gaza have killed two Israelis in the past week, and five over the past year. Israeli media reports say the country's military chief has recently proposed a wide-ranging military offensive against militants in Gaza.
The attack came as President Bush was meeting with Prime Minister Olmert in Jerusalem. A statement from Mr. Bush's press secretary blamed Hamas militants for the attack, saying Palestinian political goals will not be achieved as long as rockets from Gaza target innocent women and children.
Speaking at a conference commemorating Israel's 60th anniversary late Wednesday Mr. Bush said the U.S. and Israel share the same goals when it comes to terrorism.
"America stands for peace and so does Israel," he said. "And as we stand in peace we must understand the realities of the world in which we live. We must be steadfast and we must be strong in the face of those who murder the innocent to achieve their objectives.
On Thursday Mr. Bush will address the Israeli Knesset where he is expected to issue a call to both Israelis and Palestinians to overcome their differences and reach a framework for a peace agreement by the end of this year.