A Palestinian rocket launched from the Gaza Strip killed one person in Israel on Wednesday, the first such fatality in nine months, after Israeli forces killed eight militants in the Hamas-controlled territory.
The rocket attack, claimed by Hamas, seemed certain to increase public pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to order tougher military action in the Gaza Strip, including a possible widescale ground invasion.
Mounting violence could complicate peace talks between Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, negotiations which the United States hope can lead to a statehood deal this year.
Earlier in the day, five militants, senior members of Hamas, were killed when the van in which they were travelling was attacked from the air near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, medical officials said.
Local residents who knew the men said some of them had undergone training in Syria or Iran and returned home after Hamas breached the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt last month in defiance of an Israeli blockade of the territory.
Abu Ubaida, spokesman of Hamas's Izz Al Deen Al Qassam Brigades, denied they had travelled outside the Gaza Strip, whose border with Egypt has been resealed.
Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in June, struck back by firing more than 25 rockets at southern Israel, and two other militants were killed in an Israeli air strike on a launching site in the northern Gaza Strip, medical officials said.
A militant from the Islamic Jihad group was killed in a separate air attack east of Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, medical workers said.
Hamas says attacks from the Gaza Strip, including rockets fired by its own militants and others, are a response to Israeli military operations in the territory and the occupied West Bank and would end if Israel stopped all such activity and lifted its blockade.
No one had been killed in Israel by a Palestinian rocket strike since May 2007.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli undercover forces killed one militant and wounded and detained four others, a Palestinian official said.
The men had been confined to a Palestinian security headquarters as part of an Israeli amnesty for militants affiliated with President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, but had left the compound, a Palestinian official said. (Reuters)