A Qassam rocket struck the Ashkelon beach early Tuesday, exploding in an open field near a kindergarten and lightly wounded a a teenage girl in a nearby building.

The girl, who was cut by flying glass in the shower, was treated by Magen David Adom paramedics and then taken to hospital for further evaluation; two other people, include a propane delivery man, were suffering from shock. A number of buildings in the area sustained light damage.

"We were lucky," said Ilan Goldsmith, community manager at Kibbutz Zikim, where the rocket hit. "It exploded at quarter to eight this morning, the exact time when parents are bringing their children in."

The Palestinian-made Qassam rocket corkscrewed into the kibbutz, he said, exploding on a shady path about 10 meters (30 feet) from the kindergarten and two adjacent nursery buildings for the under-three year olds.

There were about 10 children already on the grounds when the rocket struck, said a teacher at the kindergarten. "I quickly got out of my car, ignoring the siren to help the children. I gathered them together and kept them busy," she said.

Residents of the area had felt that a strike could be imminent recently, she said. "The doors are always open and the children are not allowed to leave the area," she said. "We are very strict about that."

Responsibility for Tuesday's rocket attack was claimed by a group calling itself the Army of Islam, which has the same "global jihad" ideology as the Al- Qaida movement. It said it was responding "to the massacres committed by the Zionist enemy."

Some 13 rockets have struck the western Negev over the last two days.

The Israel Air Force carried out a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip overnight Tuesday in response to the rise in attack.

Two militants were wounded in the strikes, which hit a Hamas training camp, smuggling tunnels along Gaza's border with Egypt, and other unpopulated areas, Hamas officials and witnesses said.

"The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for maintaining the calm in the Gaza Strip and for any terrorist activity emanating from it. The IDF will also continue to respond harshly to any attempt to use terror against the State of Israel," said the Israel Defense Forces in a statement.

Hamas leaders have tried to curb rocket fire at Israel, but smaller groups continue to carry out such attacks.

On Saturday, an Israeli air strike in Gaza killed five militants from a rocket launching squad.