Beersheba joined the list of rocket-stricken communities Tuesday evening as an air raid siren sounded across the southern city, followed by several explosions. A Grad missile landed in an empty kindergarten in the city, causing damage. Thirty-four people were treated for shock at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.
The Israel Air Force managed to locate the terrorist cell which launched the Grad rocket. The cell was located in the northern Gaza Strip and attacked from the air by an IAF jet. Both the launching pads and the cell members were hit.
Another rocket landed in an open area in the Merhavim Regional Council. Shortly afterwards, two Qassam rockets hit Ashkelon and two others were fired at the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Two additional rockets landed within the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. A barn was damaged.
One of the rockets landed in the heart of Ashkelon. An Ashkelon Municipality security officer was lightly injured by shrapnel, but continued to handle the incident, calling forces to the scene before being evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center.
Eight people suffered from shock. Stores and vehicles sustained heavy damage. The second rocket exploded near a house in central Ashkelon.
The residents of the Beersheba neighborhood hit by the rocket said they had run to the bomb shelter only to find it locked. "Everything was closed there, what should we do? We live in a house with plaster walls," one of them said.
According to the angry residents, the shelters house synagogues and clubs, while their security is impaired.
"The municipality told us we would have a minute to find a fortified room from the moment the siren is sounded, but the rocket landed in the middle of the siren," said an angry resident. "I called the hotline this morning and in the afternoon and they told me the shelters were open. If I have no choice I'll break into the shelters myself."
Damage caused to kindergarten (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
Beersheba resident Itama Abuhatzeira was at his friend's house when the siren sounded. "Luckily, the entire apartment is in a basement, so we didn't have to move anywhere else – simply because we didn't have enough time," he told Ynet.
"Explosions were heard along with the siren. We have been hearing about warning for the Beersheba area for days now, so I wasn't too surprised.
Police Deputy Inspector General Yossi Parienti, commander of the district, arrived at the landing site. "Fortunately there was no one here, and only one woman suffered from shock," he said.
He called on Beersheba's resident to refrain from arriving at the rocket landing sites and to obey all orders. "Stay in your homes, in the reinforced rooms," he said.
Asked about the alert system and the residents' complaints that they did not have enough time to enter the reinforced rooms, Parienti replied, "The matter will be looked into. This is the first rocket to land here and lessons will be learned."
Mayor warns residents
The southern town of Omer, near Beersheba, also joined the list of communities disrupted by air raid sirens.
Efrat, an Omer resident, was at home with her two small daughters and was terrified to hear the siren. "As a lecturer at the Sapir College (in Sderot), but with my children at home it was terrible," she told Ynet.
Efrat's husband ran outside and discovered that the bomb shelter was locked. The town's schools and kindergartens held a rocket alert drill on Tuesday morning, but not all residents received the leaflets with the Home Front Command's instructions.
On Tuesday afternoon, Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich called on his city's residents not to be complacent and act in accordance with instructions issued by the Home Front Command.
Speaking during a briefing at his office, Danilovich said the city was more than 50% connected to the Home Front Command's alert system. The rest of the neighborhoods will be connected in the coming days.
Several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip several hours earlier. One exploded in the parking lot of a big factory in the city of Ashdod and another landed in Ashkelon, without causing any damage. Several people suffered shock. Additional rockets landed within the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council in the Gaza vicinity.
Simultaneously, the Israel Defense Forces continued its airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, and for the second time since the start of Operation Cast Lead bombed tunnels in the Philadelphi Route, near Rafah. Dozens of tunnels were damaged.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Grad rocket fired from northern Gaza landed in the city of Kiryat Malachi. There were no reports of injuries or damage. The attack marked the first time that the city and its surrounding areas have been targeted.
Explosions were also heard in the city of Netivot. One rocket landed north of Beersheba near Rahat. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Yael Branovsky and Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report