BEERSHEBA, Israel, June 19 (UPI) -- Four people were injured Tuesday when a Grad rocket fired by militants in Gaza hit a building in the Ashkelon coastal region in southern Israel, police said.
Israeli police said four border police officers were injured in the rocket attack Tuesday night, one of them critically.
More than 40 Qassam and Grad rockets were fired at southern Israel Tuesday, landing in the western Negev, Sderot and the Ashkelon areas, in one of the worst days of violence in months, Israeli security officials said.
"We strongly condemn the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, which has dramatically and dangerously escalated in the past day," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "As we have said many times, there is no justification for the targeting of innocent civilians and call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these cowardly acts.
"We regret the injuries sustained in today's violence. To avoid an escalation of the situation, we encourage all parties to exercise restraint," Nuland said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened a meeting with the top military and intelligence echelon to discuss the escalation in violence, Israel Radio said Tuesday evening. Sources in the ministry said a wide range of retaliatory actions in response to the rocket fire are under review, the radio network said.
Throughout the day police and the Israel army's Home Front Command instructed civilians living in areas threatened by rocket attacks to remain in close proximity to shelters, Ynetnews reported.
The Israeli military said it destroyed a target in Gaza shortly after the initial barrage, Ynetnews said. Palestinian sources told the news agency one person was seriously injured in what they described as a targeted killing attempt on a motorcyclist.
Israeli firefighters were called to contain a fire in a wheat field where some of the Qassam rockets had landed.
Hamas military wing Izzedin al-Qassam claimed responsibility for some of the rockets fired at Israel during the day, Ynetnews said.
An al-Qaida-linked group meanwhile claimed responsibility for Monday's terror attack on the Israeli side of the border with Egypt in which one Israeli construction worker was killed.
The group called "The Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land" identified two of its members killed by Israeli soldiers as Saudi citizen Abu Huthiyfa al-Rathali and an Egyptian named Abu Salah al-Masri, the radio network said. The group released videotapes of the two men before they embarked on the attack in which they pledged to liberate the Holy Land from Jewish control, the radio network said.