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A Katyusha rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning struck an open field in northern Ashkelon, the furthest distance a rocket has struck yet - traveling some 16.5 kilometers.

Also Thursday, at least nine Palestinians were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire in several separate incidents in the Gaza Strip, including at least four militants.

The rocket that struck Ashkelon was identified as a Grad-type Katyusha, 122 milimeters in diameter. Militants acquired the rocket from Iran and have used the type before in attacks on Israel.

In response, Israel Air Force warplanes struck a series of targets associated with terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

The pilots who carried out the mission reported successful strikes on the targets, which included a weapons workshop belonging to Islamic Jihad in Gaza City, a building connected to a Jihad activist in the central Strip and a Hamas target in southern Gaza.

"Though until now it was only the population immediately adjacent to the Gaza Strip that was in the immediate firing line, because of the extended range we could have as many as 250,000 Israelis in the firing line," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Also Thursday, three Qassam rockets hit the western Negev, one of them striking a Sderot home. The rocket damaged the windows of the house, and one woman was treated for shock. There were no damage or injuries in either of the other two attacks.

At least eight Palestinians killed by IDF fire in Gaza

At least eight Palestinians were killed by IDF fire in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, including at least four militants.

IDF troops targeted a group of militants who had fired an anti-tank rocket at them in northern Gaza, killing one Hamas militant.

Earlier Thursday, an IDF tank shell hit a home in the area of the clashes, killing a militant from the Islamic Jihad, his mother, sister, and two brothers, and wounding six others, Palestinian officials said.

The IDF said Palestinian militants holed up inside the building fired on ground troops who were operating in the area. According to the army, troops came under heavy fire from light arms and anti-tank rockets, and responded with tank fire.

The IDF said two militants were killed, along with two Palestinian women who were inside the building. "The IDF wishes to clarify that the responsibility for the death of the Palestinian women lies with the gunmen, who operated intentionally from a civilian environment," said the army in a statement.

Earlier, two militants were killed by IDF fire in southern Gaza.

Hamas officials reported heavy clashes between its men and IDF troops east of Khan Yunis and at least nine IAF air strikes overnight that wounded 10 people, at least three critically.

The fighting came a day after the IDF killed seven Hamas, Popular Resistance Committees and Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militants early Wednesday morning in a joint operation that included both land and air forces.

Palestinians reported that five of the militants were killed by an IAF missile strike while a sixth militant from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade was killed in a gunfight with IDF soldiers on the ground.