Late-night rocket barrage slams South

Some 8 rockets fired after cease-fire announced; earlier, synagogue near Ofakim sustains direct hit.

By SHELLY PAZ, JPOST.COM STAFF
January 17, 2009 10:17
Late-night rocket barrage slams South

sderot rocket shock 248 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue to fire rockets at the western Negev on Saturday evening, despite a cabinet decision that the IDF would halt their fire from 2 a.m. Sunday. At least seven rockets were fired after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the unilateral cease-fire, with one Grad-type rocket causing power outages in Ashdod. Rockets also hit Ashkelon and Beersheba. No casualties were reported in the attack, however many suffered shock. On Saturday afternoon, Hamas exploited a humanitarian lull in IDF activity to fire two rockets at Beersheba. The projectiles hit in open areas, causing no injuries or damage. Kiryat Gat was also targeted by rockets that struck open areas during the afternoon. During the evening, officials from the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council reported hearing three explosions near a kibbutz; no injuries or damage was reported. Throughout the day, the agricultural regional councils of Eshkol, Sdot Negev and Sha'ar Hanegev were all struck by rockets. No injuries or damage were reported. Four mortar shells were fired at Eshkol shortly after noon. Earlier, a rocket hit outside a kibbutz in the Sha'ar Hanegev region. Ofakim and Netivot were targeted by four rockets in the morning, with one rocket damaging a synagogue in Tifrah, near Ofakim. The building was empty due to a break in morning prayers and no one was wounded, although two people were treated for shock. Heavy damage to the structure was reported. Gaza-belt communities released a statement on Saturday evening expressing support for Operation Cast Lead while also backing diplomatic contacts aimed at reaching a cease-fire. "We have carried the burden of the threat of terrorism for eight years, and hold in esteem the [military] operation that has been under way over the past three weeks against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza," the statement said. Meanwhile, the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba said seven-year-old Uriel Elazarov remained in critical condition. On Thursday, a piece of rocket shrapnel penetrated his skull. The condition of a 43-year-old woman also seriously wounded in Thursday's attack has improved, hospital officials added, saying she had left the intensive care unit in moderate condition. On Friday, Grad rockets fired from Gaza hit Kiryat Gat, wounding three people and causing heavy damage. Others were treated for shock following the attack. Ashdod was also targeted by two Grad rockets on Friday afternoon. One rocket struck the yard of a home, wounding one man moderately and one man lightly. They were evacuated to Rehovot's Kaplan Hospital. The second projectile hit a factory in the city, causing heavy damage but no casualties. At least one man was treated for shock. Twenty-three rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel on Friday. Soldiers and civilians in the South described the rockets fire over the weekend as routine. Though Sderot seemed a ghost town on Saturday, on Friday it was flooded with people who came from across the country to show support and to do their Shabbat shopping. "We wanted to feel the atmosphere here from up close," said Shimon Nagar, an Israeli who has been living in New York for 40 years. He arrived in Israel a few days ago, and together with two of his friends came to Sderot to demonstrate solidarity. One of Nagar's friends, Shmuel Levy from Herzliya, described himself as a leftist, "and even a communist." He supported continuing the offensive against Hamas. "It is either peace or war. In war as in war, but peace will win eventually," Levy said, before the three friends drove to the best lookout into Gaza. Three couples from Tel Aviv, Ness Ziona and Rishon Lezion ate felafel near the Sderot outdoor market, which remained closed on Friday. They said they has decided to do all their shopping in the town. "This is our first time here and we decided to support the people of Sderot and the area economically and to show them our love," said Billy Shapira from Tel Aviv. "Two of my children who are serving in the army asked me to buy things for them here, too, and that's what we did," Ariela Cohen from Rishon Lezion said. Late on Saturday morning many soldiers and Sderot residents were hanging around the Kfar Aza Café/convenience store. "I just came back home after three weeks in Eilat," Sderot man Pini Asido told his friends. "I thought it would be over by now, but it isn't," he said. "But don't get me wrong. I am not complaining, we have been waiting for this for eight years." His friend Shmuel Dahan said he refused to be intimidated by the rockets. "I am glad that Hamas fired rockets at Beersheba and Ashdod, otherwise they [the government] wouldn't have started this operation at all," he said. When asked about the civilian casualties inside Gaza, in particular children, Dahan said: "Of course it hurts. We are human. This is not an easy thing, but what do you expect us to say, that we don't want our children to have a normal life?" he asked. Another woman at the table said that though this operation was taking a heavy toll in children's lives, "They killed more of us. They kill us all from the inside, not a few hundreds of us, but all of us who have been living under this threat for so long." Sec.-Lt. Stav Gilad from Jerusalem, whose job is to facilitate the evacuation of wounded soldiers and damaged equipment from Gaza, hasn't been home for three weeks. On Friday, her mother, father and aunts brought her a homemade lunch. Stav said Operation Cast Lead had entered a static phase as far as the soldiers were concerned. "This is the phase where you've had enough of it and everything becomes routine. But there is a difference between the desire to go back home and to rest a little, and the greater desire to reach this operation's main goal: to stop the rocket fire," she said. Stav is an only child. Her mother, Ariela, who signed the documents that allow her to serve in a combat unit, said she had been worried sick. "I know she is not going inside Gaza, but she is here in the area and that causes me to lose sleep," she said. Stav's father, Dotan Gilad, who lives in California and took a flight to visit his daughter, said that the offensive was generally accepted by Americans. "The IDF must remove the rocket threat from over the heads of the people. The Americans think we are crazy that we allowed this to happen, they think we are wimps," he said. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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