One dead as rockets hit Red Sea ports of Eilat, Aqaba

2nd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Several rockets apparently fired Monday from Egypt's Sinai at the Israeli resort of Eilat killed one person and wounded five in the nearby Jordanian port of Aqaba but caused no casualties in Israel.

Israel, Russia and the United States condemned the attacks, while Jordan said they were the acts of terrorists.

At least five blasts were heard in the morning, with one rocket exploding in open ground outside Eilat, two crashing into the Red Sea and the rest hitting Jordan, Israeli police said.

Jordanian officials said a Grad-type rocket slammed into Aqaba, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from Eilat, injuring six people. One, a 51-year-old taxi driver, later died.

"This terrorist and criminal act, which serves shady agendas, is strongly condemned," Information Minister Ali Ayed said in a statement.

A probe showed "the rocket was fired from outside Jordanian territory," he said.

Another official said "the rocket was fired from southwest of Aqaba" -- a reference to the Sinai Peninsula.

Eilat police chief Moshe Cohen said initial reports suggested the rockets had been fired from "the south," also an apparent reference to the Sinai, which lies some 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Eilat.

But an Egyptian security official denied any attack had been launched from the peninsula, a mountainous desert region that flanks the Gulf of Aqaba.

"The rockets did not come from Sinai," which would need "a great deal of logistics and equipment, and that is impossible considering the heavy security presence in the Sinai Peninsula," the official told AFP.

"We have a heavy security presence in Sinai, particularly along the Egyptian Israeli border. No suspicious activity has been reported anywhere in Sinai."

Jordanian Interior Minister Nayef Qadi said the rocket smashed into a street near the Intercontinental Hotel. He identified those hurt as two taxi drivers, a member of the tourist police, a security guard and an engineer.

Three cars were destroyed.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the origin of the attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah II, who was outside the country on Monday, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the attacks, his office said.

"This attack in which innocents in Israel and Jordan were struck, is the work of terrorists who want to sabotage the peace process," Netanyahu's office said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the attacks appeared designed to sabotage efforts to engage Israel and the Palestinians in direct peace talks.

"This is a deplorable action," Crowley told reporters.

"At a point where we are hoping to see direct negotiations begin as soon as possible to address the core concerns, it's not surprising that you have others who are taking actions to try to inhibit that kind of progress."

In Moscow, the foreign ministry said it condemns "all displays of terrorism, including the firing of rockets into southern Israel as well as Israel's disproportionate response to attacks by Palestinian rebels that have caused civilian casualties."

A similar attack occurred in April when two military-grade rockets struck Aqaba, one hitting an empty warehouse and the other hitting the Red Sea near the Israeli border, security officials on both sides said.

At the time, it was unclear whether Aqaba or Eilat was the target of the attack, which appeared to have been launched from the Sinai.

Three Katyusha rockets were fired at Aqaba in August 2005 in an attack claimed by a group linked to Al-Qaeda.

The two Red Sea ports lie on the northernmost point of the Gulf of Aqaba, a narrow stretch of water bordered on one side by the Sinai and the other by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The attacks came after Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip over the weekend, including a Grad rocket that struck the southern town of Ashkelon. There were no casualties in either attack.

Israel launched air strikes across Gaza following each attack, killing a Hamas military commander and wounding several other people.


© 2010 AFP

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