A serious attempt by Gaza terrorists to breach the Israeli border, and the launch of dozens of rockets and mortar shells on the Eshkol Regional Council in southern Israel on Sunday evening, has led to exchanges of fire on the Israeli border, the slaughter of 15 Egyptian soldiers by Gaza terrorists, and warnings to residents of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom to remain in shelters and lock their doors for safety reasons. Despite fear and concerns for security, a long-time activist for the western Negev region said the attacks come as “no surprise” to residents of the region.
On Sunday night, terrorists broke into an Egyptian military base and stole two armored troop carriers, using them to smash through Israel’s border with Gaza at approximately 8pm.
One jeep exploded as it rammed through the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Israel, but the other made it through, with armed terrorists jumping out and firing at IDF troops. IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told reporters that the IDF is combing the area to be sure no additional terrorists infiltrated the country, and ruled out any kidnappings of soldiers. According to a report in Al Arabiya, 15 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the theft, with several more wounded.
Egypt responded by launching F-16 attacks on targets in Rafiach (quite possibly in breach of the Camp David Accords), with President-elect Morsi calling for an emergency government meeting with the army.
Egypt has also closed the Rafiach crossing indefinitely.
The Israel Air Force had conducted a surgical strike against a member of the Popular Resistance Committtees terror organization who was traveling on a motorcycle in the city of Rafiah. The terrorist, 19 year-old Eyad Nadi Okel, was eliminated, and another terrorist, 22 year-old Ahmed Sayid Ismayil, was wounded.
The IDF released a statement saying the operation was conducted in cooperation between the army and the Shin Bet intelligence services. Ismayil was accused of involvement in a June attack on the border which killed an Israeli citizen, and the pair was suspected to be planning another attack on Eilat.
While news of the rocket fire on the western Negev made the headlines on every Israeli news website, Director of the Sderot Media Center Noam Bedein said the attacks “were very much expected today” and came as “no surprise” to the residents of the Eshkol region.
“There was a terrorist targeted today, and this is always the response in the past couple years,” Bedein said. “We had this a month ago – a target in Gaza, followed by 120 rockets and missiles from Hamas.” Bedein added that in that attack Hamas’s website stated that all the targets were military installations, when the terror organization was really aiming at civilian areas in the western Negev.
According to Bedein, 50% of the rockets which have been fired on Israel since Operation Cast Lead in late December 2008 and mid-January 2009 have been fired at the Eshkol Regional Council, the area situated closest to the border with Gaza and containing the city of Sderot, a town which suffered greatly and publicly prior to Cast Lead. The second highest percentages have been lobbed at Ashkelon, one of Israel’s largest metropolises, housing over 113,000 Israeli residents as of 2009. Bedein numbered the rockets since the Cast Lead ceasefire on January 18, 2009 at 1604 – not including the rockets launched on Sunday.
And while some would tout the Iron Dome missile defense system as the answer to the worries of residents of Sderot, the measure is totally useless to defend the city. “The Iron Dome protects from a distance of at least 4.5 kilometers from the target. Anything within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza border is therefore not protected – like Sderot and the western Negev,” Bedein said. “Around 45,000 Israelis cannot be protected by Iron Dome.”
So Sderot has become what Bedein calls the “bomb shelter capital of the world.” He says 6,000 units of bomb shelters have been attached to old apartment buildings, at a cost of NIS 500,000 million – just in Sderot. The tally for the entire western Negev, including new schools enforced against rockets is approximately 500 million dollars.
“Once the alarm goes off, you have just 15 seconds to run for your life,” said Bedein, who lived for 5 years in Sderot as part of his mission to raise awareness for the once beleaguered city.
Though the area has enjoyed a period of respite since Operation Cast Lead, which aimed to halt a nearly ceaseless barrage of Kassam rockets on the town, research done by the social work department at the Sapir Academic college suggests approximately 15,000 people from the Sderot area suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with an estimated 1000 receiving mental health treatment. “Today we actually went to the director of the mental health center in Sderot and she said it is the first time in a decade that they have cases of people being treated for schizophrenia. This is the step after PTSD, because they weren’t treated right the first time, so they are getting worse,” Bedein said. He said that Director Adrianna Katz explained that “It can be quiet for two weeks, and you need just one siren to go off and you go back to the first day you experienced a rocket exploding nearby. Even though people have their daily routine and summer vacation, we’re talking about years of rehabilitation of people in our region.”