Bush Celebrates Israel's Birthday Amid Rocket Fire
JERUSALEM (AP) -- President Bush put an optimistic face on fading hopes for Mideast peace Wednesday, declaring that Israel's 60-year triumph over war and tragedy shows democracy can succeed everywhere. But Bush's upbeat message was marred by rocket fire from Gaza and threats of heavy retaliation by Israel.
Intended as an occasion for celebrating Israel's birthday, Bush's visit instead brought bursts of fresh violence, ominous warnings and disputed claims that Israel plans to expand settlement activity in the West Bank, a development that could undermine peace talks with Palestinians. It appeared that all sides were vying for the president's attention.
Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed the peace process and threats to Israel's security - only to learn that a rocket fired from Gaza had hit a crowded shopping center in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. At least 14 people were wounded. Two militant groups, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad and the Hamas-linked Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility.