A rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun exploded in the heart of a populated area in the southern city of Ashkelon on Friday morning. Eight people suffered shock. Two empty floors of an apartment building, several cars and a nearby pavement sustained damage. Many windows were shattered.
Police dispatched to the rocket's landing site urged the residents to stay in their homes for fear of additional rockets.
"We heard the siren and ran into the fortified room," says Dudi Ben-Shlush, who lives on the fourth floor of the building hit by the rocket. "We heard the loud explosion only after we came out. The entire building trembled, windows were shattered, and the shutters were damaged.
"When we went downstairs, we saw that our two cars were completely damaged and their windows were shattered. It was very scary; we thought the entire building was going to collapse."
Windows shattered (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Nechama Carmi, who lives in the same building, was washing her car when she heard the siren. "I ran into the stairwell and waited there. When I came out I heard the loudest explosion I've heard since Operation Cast Lead. It was very strong and terrifying."
Ilana Asulin, another neighbor, was cooking the Shabbat meal. "I shut the stove, we went into the fortified room and then we heard a very loud explosion."
Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, who arrived at the landing site, said that "this is a very serious incident, the worst since Operation Cast Lead. There is no doubt that such a hit inside the city is an escalation."
He added that "most educational institutions, schools and kindergartens have not been fortified, and we demand that the defense minister continue the fortification of the schools and kindergartens. We will convene all the security elements in the city for consultations on our next move."
Sophie Hotovely Pinhas, deputy chairwoman of the local parents' committee, arrived at the site as well and said that "we will not be able to begin the school year before the fortification issue is solved. Today's rocket is a reminder to us all of the reality our children are studying in, exposed to the firing of missiles without any fortification. If the situation does not change, we won't open the school year."
'We thought the building was about to collapse (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Teddy, a local resident, told Ynet the rocket landed not far from his house. "We grabbed the baby and ran into the fortified room. There was a loud explosion."
Matan Tshuva, 18, said that after hearing the air raid siren, "we went down two floors according to the Home Front Command's orders. We have no fortified room and we are on the last floor, so such a room would not have helped us anyway. We heard the explosion only after we got back into the house, about 30 seconds after the siren.
"I went to the window to see what it was, and saw a cloud of black smoke behind a building facing the sea. I called the firefighters' department and informed them of the location. They got there immediately. There was a lot of pressure," he added.
A total of four rockets and two mortar shells were fired
last Saturday, causing no injuries. An initial examination revealed that one of the rockets, which exploded near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, was manufactured using professional means, most likely outside of the borders of the Gaza Strip.
The city of Ashkelon sustained was hit by many rocket barrages during Operation Cast Lead
about a year and a half ago.
"We are becoming like Sderot," Tshuva added. "There they suffered much more, but we are also hit occasionally."
Friday's rocket was fired on the backdrop of attempts to launch direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Hamas
movement issued a statement on Thursday criticizing
the Arab nations' support
for the resumption of direct talks, maintaining that direct talks would only lead to "to more Palestinian suffering as Israel goes on constructing settlements."
Hanan Greenberg and Liron Sinay contributed to this report