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Grad rocket in Ashkelon Photo: Tsafrir Abayov
Grad rocket in Ashkelon Photo: Tsafrir Abayov
 
 

Rocket lands in central Ashkelon

Air Raid siren sounds in southern city shortly after 7 am, followed by explosion. Grad rocket lands between buildings in residential neighborhood; three people suffer shock, several cars damaged

Shmulik Hadad
Latest Update: 02.03.09, 11:19 / Israel News

For first time since ceasefire took effect, rocket hits central Ashkelon: Despite the alleged ceasefire in southern Israel, an air raid siren sounded in the city of Ashkelon shortly after 7 am Tuesday, followed by an explosion.

 

A Grad rocket landed between buildings in a residential neighborhood in the city center as residents were making their way to school and to work. Three people suffered shock, several cars were damaged and windowpanes were shattered.  

 

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The narrow forum consisted of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Tuesday morning to discuss the renewed escalation and the Israeli response to the rocket fire.

 

Following the rocket fire, the Ashkelon parents' committee called on parents not to send their children to school on Tuesday due to the lack of fortification in the classrooms. The municipality held an evaluation of the situation and decided to open the schools as planned.

 

Rafi Zvi, a bus driver, was making his way from the city's central bus station. "The siren sounded as I left the station and began driving. I screamed to the passengers to get out immediately. There are sometimes those who are very confident and just stay there, but this time I had a bad feeling and I virtually pushed the passengers out.

 

"We ran towards the Israel Electric building, and as we escaped we saw the missile above our heads and heard a loud explosion. The back part of the bus, where quite a few passengers had been sitting, was shattered. We were really lucky, it was simply a miracle."


Bus windows shattered (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)

 

Acting Deputy Mayor Shlomo Cohen, who served as head of the Shin Bet's southern district until recently, said that "so far different organizations have been firing rockets, but since this is a Grad rocket it was probably fired by Hamas.

 

"We are waiting to hear from the Home Front Command and the different security officials whether there's a change in Hamas' policy. My estimation is that this will continue, and therefore we recommend that residents maintain their life routine."

 

Ongoing fire

A Qassam rocket was fired at the Sderot area on Monday evening. The Color Red rocket alert system was activated in the city and in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council at around 6:50 pm, followed by a blast. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

 

The rocket apparently landed near the security fence separating Israel from the Hamas-controlled enclave. It is still unclear whether it landed within Palestinian or Israeli territory.

 

The siren sounded as high-schoolers in Sderot were taking their matriculation exam in history.

 

Ilan Abukasis, a deputy administrator at one of the local schools told Ynet "when we heard the alert we immediately stopped the exam and instructed the students and proctors to leave the classroom and head a secure area. They returned to the classroom a few minutes later."


Estimate: Rocket fire to continue (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)

 

Earlier Monday, several mortar shells fired from Gaza landed in open areas within the Eshkol Regional Council. There were no reports of injuries or damage in the barrage, which took place just before noon.

 

Shortly afterwards, the Israel Defense Forces attacked a vehicle in the Gaza town of Rafah, reportedly injuring a number of people. One of the wounded, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, died at the hospital. Two others sustained serious injuries.

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned Monday that the ceasefire in Gaza remains fragile and he backed Egypt-led efforts to bring calm amid continuing scattered violence.

 

Abbas met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy as part of his effort to drum up diplomatic support for a unity government of Palestinian factions and to push for a role in rebuilding Gaza, controlled by rival Hamas.

 

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Abbas called for a "solution with Hamas in the framework of a government of national unity" but rejected the militant group's call for a new Palestinian political structure.

 

Abbas said the situation in Gaza "remains fragile", with "military operations" and "Israeli bombardments" continuing that have strained the informal ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants.

 

First Published: 02.03.09, 07:29

 

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