Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip killed a woman and wounded several other people in this border town Wednesday, drawing warnings of a military response from Israeli leaders.
It was the first fatal Palestinian rocket strike on Israel since it withdrew from the Gaza Strip last year. The attacks have continued despite repeated army raids in an effort to halt the fire.
The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliating for an Israeli shelling last week that killed 19 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun. The militant Islamic Jihad group said it also had fired rockets.
Last week's lethal shelling of Beit Hanoun, which the army said was caused by a technical malfunction, came after a weeklong raid in the town that left widespread destruction and more than 50 people dead, both militants and civilians.
The latest salvos raised the prospect of further Israeli action against [terrorists] in Gaza, with some Cabinet ministers calling for a tough response.
"Our action in Gaza will continue without interruption," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was meeting American Jewish leaders in Los Angeles. "We will decide on additional steps as required to continue fighting the unceasing, murderous terror from Gaza."
One rocket that hit Sderot slammed into a sidewalk about 150 yards from the house of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who was not home. The explosion killed a passerby, Faina Slotzker, 57, and seriously wounded a security guard patrolling near the minister's residence, mangling his legs. Several people were slightly hurt.
Galit Salim, 15, said she had been nearby on her way to school when she heard the incoming rocket alert, "Color Red," broadcast over loudspeakers a little after 8 a.m.
"I ran back home and heard a powerful boom," she said. "There was a strong smell of smoke. I went over there and saw two people without legs. The woman was frozen, she didn't respond. The other person was moving. I was shocked."
The blast shattered the windows in the home of Leah Aroch, 74, whose house is a few yards away. Shards of glass covered her living room and the pillow of her bed. "I had just gotten up after my dog rushed in when I heard the boom. The whole house was filled with smoke," she said.
Outside on the brick sidewalk, a shallow pit and a medic's surgical gloves marked the spot where the rocket had fallen.
Hours later another rocket landed in the town, seriously wounding a 17-year-old, the army said. Four more rockets landed in the coastal city of Ashkelon but caused no casualties.
Peretz met with top army officers to discuss a response.
"We will act against all those involved in firing Qassam rockets, from the heads of the terrorist organizations down to the last activist," Peretz said in a statement. "The terror organizations will pay a heavy price."
But military action has proved ineffective in halting the rocket strikes, often triggering more.
Yet rocket attacks continued from other areas during the incursion and resumed from around Beit Hanoun after the troops pulled out.
The continuing rocket strikes, and angry criticism by Sderot residents who say they are fed up with living in fear, are likely to increase the pressure on the Israeli government to respond to the attacks, which have been continuing intermittently for more than four years.
The crude, inaccurate rockets rarely cause casualties or damage, but previous strikes into Israel have killed six people since 2004, and the threat has terrified people in Sderot, a town of 20,000 less than a mile from the Gaza border fence.
Eli Moyal, the mayor, counseled stronger military action. "We have to create an equation that it won't be worth it for the Palestinians to shoot," he told Israel Radio.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, told Army Radio that Israel should broaden its operations to bring about a "complete halt" to rocket fire, "whether that means a ground operation, or an air operation or other special operations."
Some Sderot residents also called for harsher military measures, saying their nerves were frayed by the repeated alarms and rocket blasts.
"I fear most for my grandchildren, who wake up at night frightened by the booms," said Haya Ziegler, 58. "You live in constant fear of what will happen any minute. This is no way to live."