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(photo credit: Courtesy of Ashkelon Municipality [file])
Despite his mother's best efforts to protect him with her body, a seven-year-old boy was seriously wounded in Beersheba on Thursday when shrapnel from a Grad rocket penetrated his skull.
Surgeons at the city's Soroka University Medical Center were battling to stabilize Uriel Elazarov's condition during the evening, saying his life was in danger.
A 43-year-old woman was seriously wounded in the abdomen by the rocket, and four other people sustained wounds described as light to moderate. Magen David Adom said 17 people were treated for shock.
The Grad was one of two rockets fired at Beersheba at approximately 5 p.m. The second one hit an open area just outside the city, causing no injuries.
The attack triggered sirens and prompted Uriel and his mother, Angela, to exit their vehicle and lie on the ground, as instructed by the Home Front Command.
The Grad exploded nearby, sending shrapnel and metal balls that had been loaded into the warhead in every direction.
Elazarov picked up her bleeding son from the pavement and hailed a passing vehicle for a lift to Soroka, where she works as an emergency room nurse.
She placed a call to her husband, Avi, shortly after the rocket struck. "She told me she was on the ground when she suddenly heard a boom," he told Channel 1.
An hour later, the air force destroyed the rocket launchers used in the attack.
Elmaz Meshayev, Angela Elazaraov's sister, said Home Front Command instructions did nothing to help her nephew avoid injury.
"Had they continued driving, they would have been okay," a distraught Meshayev said.
But Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovitch said the attack could have been worse had Elazarov not followed the directives.
"The residents acted as they should have, stopping their vehicle and lying on the roadside," Danilovitch said. "Always listen to the Home Front Command. They [Hamas] will continue to fire on Beersheba as long as the war continues."
Col. Yitzhak Eitan, head of the Home Front Command's Southern District, called the directives "absolute" during a conference call with journalists.
"Those who get out of their vehicles and lie down will suffer fewer injuries than those who are farther away from the rocket impact zone but remain in their vehicles," he said.
Eitan added that Hamas "still has limited capabilities. It fires close-range rockets most of the time, and occasionally aims far. We saw this today with Beersheba and last night with Ashdod."
He asked residents of the South to "continue showing restraint and resilience over the coming week. I have no doubt it will be worth it."
The rocket attack on Beersheba came after a period of calm in the city and resulted in its first serious injuries since the Gaza fighting began.
Some 25 rockets were fired on southern Israel throughout Thursday. One hit the patio of a home in Sderot, causing serious damage to the building but no injuries.
The Eshkol Regional Council and the Gedera region were struck by rockets in the morning.