Israeli police say no injuries have been reported after two rockets slammed into an Israel-Gaza border town during President Obama‘s first visit to the country.
A police spokesperson tells Fox News one of the qassam rockets landed in a yard of a home in the city of Sderot in Southern Israel. The other landed in an open field. Sirens wailed in Sderot shortly after the 7 a.m. rocket attack, forcing residents on their way to work or school to run to bomb shelters.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the rockets “remind us there is a reality” beyond the vision of peace.
The small Islamist group Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement, Reuters reports.
Obama was miles away in Jerusalem at the time of the strike, preparing to visit the Israel Museum, where he inspected the Dead Sea Scrolls, which highlight the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the land that is now Israel. Obama arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at around 11 a.m. local time.
He is not bringing a new plan to relaunch peace talks, but in meetings with the Palestinians and a speech to Israeli students later in the day, he will appeal to both sides to halt unilateral actions that make negotiations more difficult.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited the border town, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, prompting Israel, with considerable U.S. assistance, to develop its Iron Dome missile defense system, which it credits with intercepting hundreds of rockets.
Immediately after his arrival in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured an Iron Dome battery at Ben Gurion International Airport in a vivid display of U.S. security assistance to Israel.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 after ousting the rival Palestinian Fatah group in bloody street fighting. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, now govern only part of the West Bank.
In contrast to Israel, the Palestinians have shown little excitement over the Obama visit. In the run-up to the visit, demonstrators have defaced and destroyed posters of Obama in an expression of dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the region.
Yasser Abed-Rabbo, an aide to Abbas, said before Thursday’s meeting that the Palestinians will tell Obama they won’t return to negotiations with Israel without a settlement freeze.
“There can be no real (peace) process with the continuation of settlement activities on our lands,” he said, adding that the issue of settlements is central to the Obama-Abbas meeting.
At a news conference Thursday in the West Bank with Abbas, Obama said the U.S. wants a viable and contiguous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel, but the only way to achieve that is through negotiations.
He added that Palestinians should not have to confront the daily indignities that come with occupation.
“We do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” Obama said. But, he added, “the politics there are complex and I recognize that is not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately, it’s not going to be solved overnight.”
Abbas said Israel must stop illegal settlement building to advance peace talks.
“We are not claiming anything that is illegitimate or illegal,” Abbas said in Arabic. “Therefore, we require the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns.”
Since 1967, Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that are now home to 560,000 Israelis — an increase of 60,000 since Obama became president.