Life for Israel's southern residents was disrupted late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning by a barrage of rockets that fell near Ashdod and inside Beersheba, causing injury and damage.
Senior IDF officials estimated on Tuesday that the violent confrontations with terrorist organizations in Gaza are due to last for the next few weeks, and cautioned residents of the Gaza vicinity to stay in secured rooms and shelter overnight, for fear of additional attacks. The forewarning was realized as two Grad rockets, one Qassam rocket and seven mortar shells hit Israeli territory on Wednesday.
Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri held a conference with security officials and decided to cancel school for the rest of the week. On Saturday evening new assessments will be taken for next week, he said.
For the first time since Operation Cast Lead, which ended in January 2009, a Grad rocket was fired at Ashdod late Tuesday night. It landed south of the city, causing no injury, but many sustained shock from the explosion.
Municipality officials said Wednesday that Lasri had assessed during his conference the city's level of preparedness for rocket attacks as well as their effect on civilians.
"We believe that if an alarm is sounded people will drop everything and run to pick their children up from kindergartens, which are not fortified. It will create chaos," one official said.
"Security officials believe the escalation will continue. This is not like Cast Lead, where we knew about the operational range and the military objective. With this, everything is shrouded in mystery, so we made this decision to call off school."
One of Grads that hit Beersheba (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
Lasri said the municipality wanted to be extra careful. "Ashdod is (Israel's) fifth-largest city. It has strategic facilities and an education system with 50,000 children and just partial fortification, so it cannot accept a constant drizzle of rocket fire," he explained.
The Ashkelon parents' committee will hold a similar conference Wednesday evening, with the participation of the city's chief of security. Sofie Hotovely Pinhas, deputy chairwoman of the parents' committee, urged all authorities "in range" to join Ashdod's initiative.
"We should not be replacing the responsible adults. If the state does not supply us with protection and is not willing to take responsibility, the parents must take responsibility and refuse to send their children to school," she explained.
Grads hit Beersheba
Beersheba also canceled school Wednesday, after two Grad rockets fell in the city. One, which fell at 5:30 am, exploded in a neighborhood without bomb shelters inside homes. Residents were astonished to find the public bomb shelters locked.
Students at Beersheba's Ben Gurion University did not remain impervious to the attacks, either; some of them, who reside in the center of Israel, decided to return to their family homes. "It hard to say that the campus has a history, but it certainly isn't a regular academic day," one student said.
Deserted BGU campus on Wednesday (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
"It was really scary, there was a loud explosion and we didn't know what to do," said another student, whose family is based in Tel Aviv. "The students don't know whether to come to class, it looks like the turnout on campus is sparse today. I know that many students who were supposed to stay in Beersheba for the weekend decided to return to the center of the country."
A third student said that she and her classmates heard the explosion of the second Grad rocket while they were in class.
"At first everyone was in shock, and the professor tried to calm us down, but there was a very strange feeling," she said. "The class where we were sitting is built from cement and it doesn't have windows, so we decided to stay and laughed a bit, mostly because of the stress and the helplessness. We heard the boom, but within an hour we continued with class, as though nothing happened."
Even the family of a student who comes from Kiryat Shmona, a town that suffered a fair share of rocket attacks over the years, received the reports with panic. "I am familiar with the feeling of being under a rocket threat from back home, but when the first rocket fell in the morning my parents called me and asked me to come back to the north," she said.
"Originally I was supposed spend the Shabbat in Beersheva, but I don't want to be scared all the time that another rocket will fall. I prefer to go back and rest."
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