Ashkelon, Israel — An Israeli missile system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza on Thursday in the first known use of Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile shield.
The new weapon, deployed last month to protect southern Israel, was launched as fighting flared with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip after militants fired an anti-tank weapon which hit an Israeli school bus, injuring two people.
Two intercept missiles were fired at a rocket from Gaza which appeared to be heading toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, just north of the enclave.
Militants have fired rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel since the Hamas Islamist movement seized control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinians loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
In December 2008, cross-border clashes escalated into a three-week war in which Israel pounded the enclave. About 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli air strikes increased again late last month and 16 Palestinians were killed, and a tourists died in a Jerusalem bomb attack, the first of its kind since 2005.
Israel is known to have two operational Iron Dome shields. It deployed the first near the Gaza Strip last month and the second in Ashkelon, but has warned Israelis under fire from the Hamas-run territory they would not be completely protected since it can cover only limited areas.
Iron Dome fires radar-guided missiles from a truck-sized launcher and is designed to track and blow up incoming rockets in mid-air.
Iron Dome's operators say it is designed to intercept only rockets that are about to hit residential areas and to ignore those on a harmless trajectory.