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Qassam rocket (archives)
Photo: Reuters
3 rockets fired at southern Israel
Western Negev residents wake up to sounds of Color Red alert system, followed by explosions. One Qassam lands between two kindergartens in Eshkol Regional Council. Two hours later, Palestinians open fire at IDF force near border fence. Four mortar shells land in area several hours later. No injuries reported in all incidents
Operation Cast Lead ends, rocket fire continues: Three Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into the western Negev on Sunday morning. The Color Red alert system was activated in the Sha'ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regional councils.

 

The rockets were launched at around 6:50 am. One landed in the Sdot Negev Regional Council and the other two hit the Eshkol Regional Council, one of them landing between two kindergartens. Fatah's military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

 

At around 9 am, Palestinian gunmen fired at an IDF force near the border fence in the Kissufim area. The soldiers fired back. There were no injuries in all incidents.

 

Four mortar shells were fired at the western Negev at around 11 am. They landed in open areas within the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, without causing injuries or damage.

 

On Saturday morning, a Grad rocket landed in an open area south of Ashkelon. There were no injuries in this incident as well.

 

The rocket alert system was not activated in the Eshkol Regional Council before the rockets landed there. Yael Adar, the council's education coordinator, asked all members of the education system to be alert.

 

"We've returned to the reality of before Operation Cast Lead. We hoped to return to a different routine, but we're back to a routine of landings from time to time without the Color Red alert, without deterrence. The children were on their way to the kindergarten with their parents. It was a miracle that nothing happened."


Rocket landing site in western Negev

 

Alon Schuster, head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, said he was not surprised by the rocket fire but does not hold the answers to the security situation.

 

"The ones who must act are the defense minister and prime minister," he said. "They decided to launch Operation Cast Lead and set the rules of the game which are, unfortunately, violated by the Palestinians. There are people on the other side with a different ideology than ours."

 

The security officer at the community where a rocket landed near two kindergartens told Ynet, "Unfortunately, this rocket didn’t explode. It landed just as the children were making their way to the kindergarten. Some of them were already on the buses. One of the families was several meters away from the landing site. Luckily everything is okay.

 

"I didn’t delude myself that it was over. The bomb shelters are still open. People become addicted to the calm very quickly, but this is not what we expected after such an effort."

 

For now, the children will be forced to remain inside the kindergartens and fortified children's residences in the kibbutzim, as they did in the past. The residents are urging the government to respond to the fire.

 

Haim Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, said that "residents here don't care about the elections. It's unimportant. No government should take this consideration into account."

 

Sdot Negev Regional Council head Meir Yifrach added, "We have yet to obtain deterrence. People are asking what is happening, will there be an operation. I hope we get some answers."

 

'We expect them to respond'

Tzviki Porat, a Sdot Negev resident, said, "We haven't even gotten used to the calm, and a rocket has already landed here. We don't know whether to laugh. We expect them to respond if they say the response will be disproportionate.

 

"If we hear the Color Red again and again, and a Grad rocket is fired at Ashkelon, what have we done? What next?"

 

On Thursday, a Qassam rocket hit the Sderot area, several hours after the Israel Air Force struck a weapons manufacturing facility near the Gaza town of Rafah in response to a rocket which landed in the Eshkol area.

 

Early Wednesday, the Air Force attacked arms smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi Route following at attack on an IDF patrol near the Kissufim crossing, which left one soldier killed and three injured.

   

The narrow forum comprised of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Thursday evening to discuss the ongoing rocket fire. The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to expand its response if the rocket fire continues, pending instructions from the political echelon.

 

Sources in the defense establishment have estimated, however, that Hamas is not interested in an escalation. No operative decisions were made during the discussion.

 

Shmulik Hadad and Efrat Weiss contributed to this report

 


First published: 02.01.09, 07:17
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