50 mortar shells fired into Israel, 2 injured

IDF responds to attacks with tank, helicopter strikes on Gaza; Hamas claims responsibility for 10 projectiles.

March 19, 2011 09:59
3 minute read.
IDF soldiers on tank near Gaza border

IDF soldiers on tank near Gaza border 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Civilian areas in southern Israel were heavily shelled by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza on Saturday morning, when more than 50 mortars were fired at the regional councils of Sha'ar Hanegev, Eshkol and Sdot Hanegev.

Two Israelis sustained light injuries by shrapnel and were transferred to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

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Hamas's armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for a dozen of the mortars fired.

The IDF responded to the barrage of mortars with tank shells and helicopter attacks. Six Palestinians were reportedly injured in the strikes.

Following the attacks, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed diplomats in New York to lodge a complaint with the United Nations over the mortar barrage.

One building sustained extensive damage in the Eshkol Regional Council although a majority of the projectiles landed in open areas, local officials reported.

The regional council is inhabited predominantly by farmers, and has been the target of Palestinian shelling for several years.

Eyal Brandeis, a kibbutz secretary in the Eshkol Regional Council, and the head of a local emergency response team, told The Jerusalem Post that the injured were a married couple who had been attempting to seek cover in a safe zone - a room reinforced with concrete to protect from projectiles.

"It happened just as they entered the room. The couple were responding to instructions we sent out on cell phone text messages calling on all residents to seek shelter. They ran to the room, and shrapnel went through the window just before they could close it," Brandeis said.

The man suffered shrapnel injuries to his back, while the woman was injured in her hand, Brandeis added. The couple received medical attention on the spot before being evacuated by Magen David Adom paramedics to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva for further treatment.

"We are used to sporadic rocket and mortar fire, but this was not the daily show we are used to," Brandais said, referring to the high number of mortars fired at his community on Saturday. "Luckily, we escaped with few injuries. We'll have to get through this," he added.

Southern communities cannot be alerted to mortars by the Color Red rocket alert system and have developed their own cell phone text messaging alert system. "When we heard the high number of explosions across the area, we knew this was not an ordinary attack," he said.

Ronit Minaker, a spokeswoman for the Eshkol Regional Council, said residents had been ordered to stay indoors for the duration of the morning. "People were compliant with the safety instructions," she said.

"We're not used to this kind of massive fire. But we have experienced it before, and we know how to respond," Minaker added. 

"Our residents expect the government to do everything it can to end this. They also expect the government to construct safe rooms in the many communities that still lack them," she said.

Local authorities said on Saturday that they were in the midst of a legal campaign aimed at forcing the government to deploy the Iron Dome anti-rocket and anti-mortar shield.

Officials are petitioning the Supreme Court to order the state to deploy the shield to protect communities situated at least 4.5 kilometers away from the border and beyond. The system is unable to neutralize projectiles fired at communities up to 4.5 kilometers from the border.

The Supreme Court has ordered the state to reply to the petition within 30 days.

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