Rocket from Gaza wounds 35 Israeli soldiers

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ZIKKIM, Israel, Sep 11 (Reuters) A rocket launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza today wounded at least 35 soldiers in an Israeli training camp for new conscripts.

The attack is likely to increase pressure on Israeli leaders to crack down on the Hamas-controlled territory.

The Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad groups jointly claimed responsibility for the overnight strike which hit soldiers sleeping in tents at the Zikkim training base, just north of Gaza. Hamas praised the attack.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the rocket, one of dozens of crude missiles fired every month from the enclave, landed on an empty tent but sent fragments tearing through others.

It was the highest number of wounded in a single rocket attack launched from the Gaza Strip, which Hamas Islamists took over during fighting against the long-dominant Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group ''blessed'' the rocket attack ''which brought pride to Palestine''.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said he convened cabinet colleagues and security chiefs to discuss a response.

Last week, Olmert's security cabinet decided against launching a major assault in the Gaza Strip after a rocket landed near a children's day care centre. It opted instead for what it called ''pinpoint attacks'' against militants.

At least 35 soldiers were still in hospital 12 hours after the attack, three of them in serious condition. Hospital officials said some 50 soldiers were brought in but some had not suffered physical injury.

Hours after the predawn strike, a missile fired by Israeli forces hit a home in Beit Lahiya, a Palestinian town in northern Gaza, locals said. A woman and her daughter were wounded.

A military spokesman said troops operating in Beit Lahiya attacked a site from which the rocket was launched at Zikkim.

Such rockets are erratic in flight and few cause injury, although 12 people have been killed by them since 2000.

CALLS FOR RETALIATION The strike on the army base came two days before Israel celebrates the Jewish New Year and triggered further debate on whether a large-scale ground operation should be launched in the Gaza Strip against militants behind the rocket launchings.

''I think that, long, long, long ago, years back, we should have responded with a mighty force,'' Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai told Israel's Army Radio.

''There will be no choice but to take action, ultimately,'' he said. ''There will be discussions, the military will makes its proposals, and the government will decide.'' After last week's blast near the kindergarten, ministers said they would examine the possibility of cutting off Israeli electricity to the Gaza Strip, which is dependent for energy on its neighbour, if the rockets continued to fly.

Israeli officials have said sending in troops to confront well-armed Palestinian gunmen would lead to heavy casualties on both sides.

Olmert is in the midst of talks with Abbas, who broke with Hamas and whose mandate has effectively been reduced to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, ahead of a US-sponsored peace conference in November.

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

But militant groups consider the territory still occupied because Israel controls its air, land and sea frontiers.

Reuters RAR DB2141

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