A rocket fired from Gaza Strip has exploded in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon just weeks before Barack Obama is expected to make his first visit to the area, according to local reports.

The attack, the first from the Hamas-ruled Strip since a truce ended Israel's Operation Pillars of Defence in November, caused some damage but no injuries, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

"A total surprise, a total surprise because it was quiet." Yossi Atia, head of security for education in Ashkelon, said. "Since 'Pillars of Defence' until today there were no hits - in my area at least."

Hamas officials in Gaza refused to comment.

The attack followed the death of a Palestinian detainee in an Israeli jail which triggered protests in the occupied West Bank.
Five Palestinians were shot and wounded by Israeli troops during confrontations with protesters in Bethlehem. A 15-year-old is in critical condition.

Tensions have heightened after the death in disputed circumstances of Arafat Jaradat.

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