Israel Resource Review 18th November, 2008


Panic Returns To The Western Negev
David Bedein

Jerusalem - Over the weekend, approximately 20 Qassam rockets, Grad rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at communities in the southwestern region of Israel. Most of the rockets were fired on Friday, causing shock and fear among residents who had enjoyed several months of quiet.

The rocket barrages began on Friday morning. The rockets were fired at the Israeli town of Sderot and surrounding communities. The "Red Color" alert operated without a lull.

Additional rockets fell between the homes of residents and the henhouses on area communal farms. Although no one was injured, damage was caused.

Before noon, five rockets were fired at the more distant and strategically important city of Ashkelon. A Grad rocket fell in an uninhabited area, very close to the stadium's practice grounds, near the Central Bus Station and a local school.

"We heard the first Qassam rocket, and right after the alarm they took us out into the hall," 13-year-old Yarin, who attends School No. 1 in Ashkelon, told the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. "Some of my friends and I have already gotten used to it, but girls started to cry and called their parents. Some of the girls in the class fainted and had water poured on them." Fifteen people, including children, were hospitalized for shock because of the incidents in Ashkelon.

The parents' committee of the Beit Yehezkel primary school in Ashkelon decided to keep their children home from school today because the school is not protected. The parents are demanding that mobile protected areas be placed at the school and that its roof be reinforced. These are the same demands that the parents of schoolchildren in Sderot have been making since the dramatic escalation in warfare emanating from the Gaza Strip began following the forced removal of Jews from the area in the summer of 2005.

One of the rockets that exploded in Sderot damaged several homes and cars. An elderly woman who was wounded in the arm was taken, along with a woman suffering from shock, to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Six other residents suffered from shock and were treated at the city's trauma center. "We feel like we're in a bunker with all this protection," said Meir Zoubib, whose home was damaged by a rocket. "We gave up and thought about leaving, but that's no solution," he added.

Security Installation Sustains Direct Hit For the first time since Qassam rockets began to be fired at Israel, the Palestinian terror organizations successful struck a sensitive security installation inside Israel in the current round of rocket fire.

Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, confirmed that one of those rockets landed in the unprotected courtyard of a sensitive security installation near Gaza. No one was injured because the installation was not manned at the time. However, damage was caused to sensitive equipment by shrapnel. The damage caused the installation to be shut down for a number of days to allow for repair work to be carried out.

This was the first time since Palestinians began firing Qassam rockets that a security installation has been hit and damaged severely enough to disrupt work.

Security sources said it was their understanding that the people who fired the rocket had not meant to hit the security installation but, rather, a nearby civilian community. Repair work has been completed on the installation and it is back in full working order.

The Israeli security establishment refused to comment on the direct hit.

Preparing For Rocket Fire On Ashdod

The Israeli security establishment is preparing for the possibility that the range of Palestinian rocket fire will increase and come to include the Israel's port city of Ashdod, the hub of Israeli commercial imports and exports by sea.

Israel Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, who is responsible for home front security, is scheduled to hold his first working tour tomorrow of Ashdod along with representatives of the IDF Home Front Command and security officials from the municipality in order to get a close look at the city's readiness for a state of emergency. "We need to prepare for every extreme scenario," said Mr. Vilnai.

The Israeli Army Home Front Command has been making preparations for the past number of months in anticipation of the possibility that Ashdod, a city of 220,000 residents, might come under rocket fire. In the past number of months various position holders in the municipality received training, a large-scale exercise was held for all of the emergency service workers in the city, and supervisors from schools and welfare offices received special training.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Kiryat Gat and Ashdod were invited to take part in an exercise that was carried out by the Home Front Command a number of months ago.

The Israel Home Front Command has also prepared literature explaining how to choose a protected space and what are the rules of behavior during times of emergency. That literature has not yet been distributed to the general public.

"Ever since the rockets started landing in Ashkelon, we realized that it was just a matter of time before they landed in Ashdod too," said Colonel (res.) Aryeh Itah, the director of the Ashdod municipality's emergency services department. "We've drilled all of the people who have a role to play, and we hope that we don't have to use them."

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