Miracle south of Ashkelon: A Qassam rocket exploded near a kindergarten in a kibbutz within the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council on Tuesday morning just as dozens of parents were bringing their children to school.
A 14-year-old girl was lightly injured by shrapnel and glass fragments. She was evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. Several people suffered from shock, including a young boy and a gas-truck driver.
The Qassam exploded at around 8 am on, just seconds after the 'code red' siren was sounded. Residents rushed to take cover. The injured 14-year-old was in her home, not far from the kindergarten, and was preparing to leave for school.
Rocket which hit kibbutz (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Some of the children were already in the kindergarten when the rocket exploded nearby. Kindergarten teacher Ronit told Ynet, "I was on the path that leads to the kindergarten when I heard the siren. I ran towards the children in the building.
"The kindergarten itself is a bomb shelter, so there was no reason to move anyone. The children were relatively calm. Right after the explosion the children started coloring."
She said that the kids didn't seem to be affected by the blast. "The amazing thing was that the children were all drawing colorful and happy pieces of artwork. Not a black or dark color in sight.
"We are supposed to be getting a supporting wall for additional protection soon. Sadly, recently there have been quite a few 'code red' sirens that mean that rockets have fallen within the area and that affects the children as well."
Tammy, a kibbutz resident, recalls the terrifying events: "We heard the 'code red' siren and went into the bomb shelter. The blast was very loud, and I immediately told my husband that the rocket fell in the kibbutz."
Concerned parents made their way to the kindergarten, but the kibbutz insisted on sticking to their usual routine.
Ayelet Shapira, the 14-year-old girl injured in the incident, was discharged from the hospital after a short treatment. She told Ynet that she heard the Color Red rocket alert while she was in the shower.
"I ran to the fortified room and suddenly heard a big blast. The glass shattered and flew towards me, and some of it infiltrated my leg."
Dr. Ron Lobel, Barzilai hospital's deputy director, said her condition was good and that she was suffering from bruises in her leg.
"I'm glad that it wasn't more serious and that I can smile at you now," Ayelet said before leaving the hospital. Her mother, Nurit, said she was busy preparing sandwiches for her children when she heard the rocket alert and the explosion.
"Missile attacks on our home cannot become a routine," she said. "We shouldn't have to live in the shadow of a constant threat of being harmed by those who don't distinguish between children and anyone else."
Window broken during blast (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Ayelet's aunt, Shoshana, said it was "a great miracle" that her niece was only injured in her leg. "A heavier disaster was averted, because a truck filled with gas arrived this morning and the rocket fell only 4 meters (13 feet) way from the truck. Had the truck exploded, it would have been much worse."
A defense establishment official said Tuesday morning that the recent escalation in the south was not random. "The terror organizations are trying to test the Israeli response to increased rocket fire."
Military sources told Ynet that the escalation was the result of internal Palestinian processes and terror organizations' anniversaries.
The Israel Defense Forces bombed
seven targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday night in a bid to convey a firm message that Israel will not ignore the mortar and rocket fire. It was one of the most extensive attacks carried out by the Air Force since the end of Operation Cast Lead about two years ago.
Hamas, the IDF believes, is not taking an active part in the events, but is fully responsible for the escalation. According to estimates, its leaders are instruction the other organizations to test the Israeli response.
Army officials are aware of the fact that the terror organizations act gradually – starting with mortar shells fired at communities near the border fence and moving on to rockets fired at populated areas in Sderot and Ashkelon.
"We have conveyed clear messages. We shall not accept this type of fire. We have many more ways to convey to the other side the message that such a reality will receive a proper response."
The kindergarten compound, where the rocket landed, is not fully fortified. The defense establishment decided to fortify the roof only, although sources in the Gaza vicinity kibbutzim said it would cost more than building a new kindergarten.
"Now they've decided to fortify the side walls of all kindergartens in the Gaza vicinity as well, up to 1.30 meters (4.3 feet). The work will begin in January and the children will have to stay in an alternative structure for about half a year."
A military source confirmed to Ynet that the fortification on the kindergartens' roof provided protection only against an infiltration of rockets from the upper part of the building.
The source estimated that the project, which began recently, would be completed in the first half of 2011. "We are talking about an accelerated and organized procedure, which is aimed at providing kindergarten kids with maximal protection.
"The forces are working on the ground all the time. We are also planning to complete the extensive fortification in Sderot next year in a bid to provide residents in those areas with the best protection possible."
He added that another goal was to improve the rocket alert system and provide the residents with reliable information about launched rockets in real time.
Home Front Command officials have been holding meetings with local council heads in recent days. "These are strong communities, which recognize the complex reality. They know how to act on days of escalation like this one," the military sources said. "In any event, it's important to follow the Home Front Command's instructions, because they have proved to save lives."
Hanan Greenberg and Boaz Fyler contributed to this report