( Reuter )- A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel on Tuesday just hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited the area and cautioned residents not to expect a lull in Palestinian attacks to last.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the rocket strike, the first against Israel since Sunday, saying its "battle against occupation is continuing".
Such attacks have tailed off sharply since Israel ended a Gaza offensive eight days ago and Egypt stepped up truce mediation efforts. Israel has not raided the Gaza Strip since the five-day assault that killed some 120 Palestinians.
A police spokesman said the rocket fell in open ground south of the major Israeli city of Ashkelon, causing no injuries.
A few hours earlier, Olmert visited Ashkelon, hit by longer-range rockets during a recent surge of violence, and told residents there were no guarantees Katyusha salvoes from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip would not resume.
"Don't think it was a one-time experience," Olmert said about Katyusha attacks that put Ashkelon within range of rocket-launching squads in the Gaza Strip, seven km (four miles) away.
Olmert said Hamas has "created a reality in which there is no way to protect Israeli civilians except to hit back at those who hit us, and sometimes to hit back disproportionately so their pain will be enough to deter them from continuing to fire."
Israeli officials gave no indication whether the military would respond to the latest rocket strike. A spokesman for Olmert said Hamas, in charge of the Gaza Strip bore overall responsibility for attacks from the territory.
"We have no illusions as to the extreme, violent and hateful agenda of Hamas," spokesman Mark Regev said. "We will hold them accountable."
Hamas Islamists, who seized control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in fighting last June, have been holding their fire against Israel for the past seven days.
A Gaza truce could be key to U.S.-brokered peace efforts between Israel and Abbas. Amid much skepticism, Washington hopes the negotiations can lead to a Palestinian statehood deal by the end of the year.
A ceasefire could also prove attractive for Hamas if it included an easing of an Israeli-led Gaza blockade that is part of a campaign to weaken the group.
Hamas has spurned Western demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.
Abbas said in Amman on Monday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups in the Gaza Strip behind cross-border rocket fire at Israel, wanted assurances that in return for agreeing to a truce, their leaders would not be attacked.
Olmert has threatened to target all those behind the rocket strikes, raising speculation that Hamas's political leadership could be on the firing line.
Hamas denied its pursuit of an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire was motivated by a desire to protect its leaders from Israeli assassination.
"Hamas leaders seek martyrdom and would never bargain over the blood of their people like others do," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.
Israel assassinated top Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in the Gaza Strip in 2004.