At least twenty Kassam rockets were fired at Israeli civilians in southern Israel late Sunday night, after Israeli Air Force jets struck terror cells in Gaza.
The majority of the rockets landed in the Eshkol Regional Council. No damage or injuries were reported.
Four rockets landed in open areas in the regions of Sderot, Hof Ashkelon, and Eshkol after 9am.
Red alert warning sirens went off throughout the night, with residents being advised to stay within 15 seconds of bomb shelters. Fifteen seconds is the approximate amount of time between the start of a warning siren and the explosion of a rocket.
IAF forces struck two operation centers and a rocket launching site in Gaza earlier Sunday, killing one terrorist.
On Sunday, 7 rockets landed near the heavily-populated cities of Beersheba and Ashekon. School was cancelled for approximately 40,000 school children.
An escalation in rocket fire began last Wednesday, when over 80 rockets and mortars were launched against Israeli civilians from Gaz, damaging eight homes in five Israeli towns. As Israel prepared to ramp up its response to Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees – which claimed responsibility for the attacks – Hamas requested a ceasefire through Egyptian intermediaries.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet passed a plan to fortify all homes between 4.5 and 7 kilometers from Gaza at an estimated cost of $70 million.
The 26-town plan will mean the installation of 1,629 safe rooms in homes as well as the fortification of schools between 7 and 15 kilometers from Gaza. The project is estimated to be completed by the end of 2013.
Sderot Mayor David Buskila has announced that he will not eat again until the government increased the budget of the beleaguered town, well-known landing site of many of Hamas’s rockets launched on civilians from sites in Gaza.
Busika set up a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on Wednesday, demonstrating on behalf of his town’s 20,000 residents.
Buskila accused the government of failing to provide more support for Sderot’s recovery, and said the government has come through with just 10 percent of the funding it promised to the municipality.
Sderot municipal employees went on strike on Sunday, rallying in front of the Prime Minister’s office, even before 80 rockets rained down on the region.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama said during a televised debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney that his visit to Sderot in 2007 had moved him to fund the Iron Dome anti-missile battery system.
The Interior Ministry has said it provided funding to Sderot, and that it is up to officials there to put it to good use.
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.
Earlier in the day, exchanges of fire were reported across the border in the area, with at least 15 shells being launched from tanks on the Israeli side. Sources in Gaza said militants firing at Israeli soldiers were wounded in the exchange.
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.
IDF soldiers set up road blocks based on intelligence received about the terrorists’ plan to enter Israel in armored vehicles.
“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.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Israelis on Sunday that Israel’s armed forces would protect residents of the south, as a tentative quiet followed a weekend of rockets lobbed on the region from Gaza.
“The IDF will act forcefully against those who are trying to harm us, and if necessary, will act with even more force,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “Our policy is to use force in order to return security and quiet to the residents of the South.”
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted five Grad rockets from Gaza on Saturday targeting the 113,000 residents of the city of Ashkelon. Gazan-based terrorists launched 25 rockets against targets in southern Israel on Saturday, damaging a school and a factory and bringing the total number of rockets fired in the last week to 150.
A fragile Egypt brokered an even more fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which appears to be in effect since the last Grad missile was launched at 10pm on Saturday. Schools were open as usual on Sunday morning.
Despite the fear and tension which the rocket fire has caused in southern Israel, several residents and potential victims reported experiencing miracles which kept them and their families safe from harm.
The majority of the rockets in the six day barrage were aimed at the border city of Sderot, with others landing in the Eshkol, Ashkelon Beach and Shaar HaNegev Regional Councils. A rocket which landed at a Sderot factory moderately-to-severely injured a 50 year old male factory employee who was hit in the neck and by shrapnel and evacuated by a Magen David Adom medical team to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkeon. The factory sustained heavy damage and two civilians were treated for shock. A rocket which hit an empty school caused serious damage but no injuries.
Israeli security leadership held emergency meetings with the Prime Minister on Saturday, with security sources stating that “quiet will be met with quiet, but more rocket fire will be met with further fire.”
Several area residents were treated for shock, with IDF Home Front Command urging residents to remain close to bomb shelters. Sderot mayor David Buskila convened a special meeting with police and Home Front Command officials on Saturday, demanding that the government protect the town, and reporting that the city’s center for victims of stress and anxiety was open for the public.
Israel responded to attacks by launching a targeted strike against Gaza terrorists, with the Israel Air Force killing one terrorist in northern Gaza near Jabaliya as he prepared to launch a missile, and killing another en route on a motorcycle to a rocket launching site outside Gaza City
Israeli Air Force jets bombed three Hamas military bases in Gaza on Saturday morning, injuring 20 according to sources in Gaza.
Israeli airstrikes have killed at least six Gaza terrorists since Monday.