Palestinian gunmen fired 16 Qassam rockets and several mortar shells into Israel on Sunday. One of the rockets fired in the first barrage at around 7 am landed within the Eshkol Regional Council, another hit the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, and the third landed within the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council Hanegev without exploding.
A mortar shell was fired at a community within the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council. A foreign worker was lightly injured by shrapnel while working in a hothouse in the area. He was evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
Following the barrages, the Israel Air Force struck a launcher with ready-to-launch rockets on it near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun.
Gil Tasa, the community's former security coordinator, whose family owns the hothouses, told Ynet, "It's a miracle that other workers who were in the area were not hurt. The State did place portable shelters in the fields, but only in the southern areas. In the northern areas there's no protection, no structure to hide in."
He said some 300 laborers work in the community. "They deserve to be protected as well, and we expect the State to take care of this as soon as possible."
Less than an hour later, a rocket barrage was fired at the southern town of Sderot. Two Qassams landed on Palestinian territory, one launch failed and four rockets landed in the Sderot area.
One rocket directly hit a house, and one person suffered from shock. Another rocket landed near an elementary school, another near a youth cultural center in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, and the fourth Qassam landed near a factory in a local kibbutz. A factory pipe was damaged by shrapnel, and firefighters and representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry were dispatched to the area.
Security forces near house hit by rocket (Photo: Ze'ev Trachtman)
At around 10 am, two rockets landed in Ashkelon's industrial zone. Two additional rockets were fired at around noon, and landed in open areas in the Sha'ar Hanegev and Eshkol regional councils. A rocket fired in the early afternoon hours landed within the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
Two more rockets were fired at around 1:30 pm. One landed on Palestinian territory near the border fence, and the other is believed to have hit the Eshkol Regional Council. At around 3:45 pm, another rocket landed in an open area within a kibbutz in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. There were no reports of injuries or damage in all these incidents.
Following Sunday's morning's rocket fire, Magen David Adom emergency services announced a heightened state of alert in the Gaza vicinity communities, bringing it to one level under the organization's highest.
Shlomo Moskowitz, whose house is adjacent to the damaged house, told Ynet, "We heard the Color Red (alert system) and ran quickly into the fortified room. I then heard a very loud explosion. Three weeks ago, a rocket landed in my backyard and caused damage, and I was sure the rocket landed in my house this morning as well.
"We went outside and saw that a rocket had landed in the adjacent house. There's no fortified room there and no one was home. It's a miracle no one was injured.
"This morning's barrage is simply terrible. It happened while the children were on their way to school. My son already told me he doesn't want to go, he's afraid. I don’t know how I'll go to work from here with this unstoppable fire," Moskowitz said.
'Israeli operation will prompt further activities'
The al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, claimed responsibility for the attack on Sderot.
A source in the organization told Ynet it was a response to the "continued Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip" and to the assassination and arrest of Palestinians in the West Bank. The source vowed to continue the series of responses.
Members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, fired mortar shells at the Gaza vicinity communities over the weekend.
A source in one of the Palestinian organizations told Ynet, "In the absence of a lull, we must make it clear to the enemy that the blockade on the Strip and the ongoing Israeli activity within the Strip cannot continue without a response."
The source promised that "there won't be any calm with the Strip's residents still under siege and with Israel deciding when and whether to open the crossings".
As for the option of renewing the truce, the source said, "In the meantime it's unclear when the talks on this issue will be resumed, if at all, so what we are doing is part of our natural right to defend ourselves rather than leave the Strip and its residents as hostages in the hands of the Israelis," the source said.
He stressed that "any Israeli operation will only prompt further activities and more fighters against the enemy."
School children ordered to stay in shelters
Heads of the Gaza vicinity communities called on the prime minister and government on Sunday morning to act urgently following the recent rocket fire. The government was expected to discuss the situation in its weekly cabinet meeting.
The Home Front Command instructed the community heads to order school children to remain in the fortified rooms during recess. This instruction will stay in effect until the Hanukkah break begins on Tuesday.
Alon Schuster, head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, told Ynet, "The fortification plan launched cannot be stopped, but we must exert all efforts in order to complete the construction in 2009."
Yair Farjun, head of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, said that "the rules of the game are unclear to the Palestinians, because we also don’t know the rules, unfortunately."
Ali Waked, Efrat Weiss and Ilana Curiel contributed to this report