Israeli Schools Closed over Rocket Threat

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Some 3,500 students in the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod stayed home Friday due to an increase in rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Gaza-based terrorists fired up to six rockets at Ashkelon -- a few kilometers south of Ashdod -- overnight Wednesday, five of which were destroyed by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery.

The Israel Air Force responded with targeted strikes on terror sites in northern Gaza, identifying direct hits on a weapons warehouse, a weapons plant and an underground rocket launch site.

Thursday's rocket attacks on Ashkelon prompted the Ashdod municipality to close all non-fortified schools.

Since January 1, terrorists have fired 17 rockets, prompting Israeli defense officials to reassess the status of the ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense a little over a year ago, the Israeli daily, Ma'ariv reported.  

The November 2012 operation reduced rocket fire from Gaza by a whopping 98 percent, but it has escalated over the past two months.

Some analysts say the recent increase in rocket attacks is meant to torpedo the U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which Hamas opposes.

Others say the terror group wants to show it's still a force to be reckoned with despite its rocky relationship with Egypt's interim government.

Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, was advancing its status before the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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