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(photo credit: AP)
Warning sirens sounded in Ashdod Sunday morning as two rockets launched from the Gaza Strip landed east of the city.
Over 35 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday, as two of the projectiles, reported to be Grad-type rockets - landed near Ashdod, some 40 kilometers from Gaza.
While the total number of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza was significantly lower than Saturday's barrage of over 60 missiles, the strike near Ashdod marked the farthest point into Israel a Hamas rocket has reached since the terrorist organization began firing them on Israel some eight years ago.
Warning sirens were heard throughout the city - the country's largest port town after Haifa - around 9:30 Sunday morning, followed by loud booms. One of the rockets landed in a nearby moshav, shattering windows in nearby homes, but not wounding anyone. The second rocket landed in an open area, also causing little damage.
While Ashdod's residents had been told to expect a rocket strike during the IDF's ongoing operation in Gaza, the city seemed all but completely unfazed by the strikes only an hour after the rockets touched down. Streets were bustling, people sat outside cafÃ©s drinking coffee, and a park near the city's center was filled with parents and their children enjoying the sunny weather.
"We're going out and carrying on with our lives," Sofi Lalush, who was at the park with her daughter, five-year-old Noam, told The Jerusalem Post. "Hamas wants us to be afraid and to stay indoors, so the only answer I can think of is to do the opposite. We know what to do if we hear the siren."
Indeed, Noam insisted on explaining her plan of action if the rocket-alert siren were to sound.
"My mom told me I'm supposed to run into the nearest building," she said. "When the siren went off this morning, we went into the stairwell and waited. It was scary then, but I'm not scared anymore."
Others expressed their faith in God, and the miracles they had seen unfolding before them.
"They try and fire rockets at us, and look, thank God, it barely causes any damage," said Gavriel, a middle-aged haredi man who was at the park with his four children. "My kids are here, my wife is down the street doing some shopping, and we're carrying on, like normal. He that guards Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps," he continued, quoting from Psalm 121. "Every bullet has its address and all we can do is trust in Him."
Meanwhile, defense officials said Sunday that while rocket attacks had been lower than expected in the first 24 hours of Operation Cast Lead - around 150 rockets and mortar shells altogether - the situation could change quickly.
The officials said that while the relatively low number of rockets fired could be a result of the blow suffered by Hamas, it was somewhat more likely that Hamas was attempting to deceive Israel into believing this, and that the group might be poised to unleash severe rocket barrages when the opportunity arose.
In the afternoon, two Grad rockets also hit Ashkelon, lightly wounding wo people and causing minor damage. Eight more residents were evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon and treated for shock. In the Eshkol region, one person was lightly wounded when a rocket hit the roof of a building in a kibbutz.
In Ashkelon, the first rocket landed in an open field near the entrance to the city, a mere 300 meters from the Hutzot Mall, while the second rocket, which caused the wounds, landed on a street in Ashkelon's Atikot neighborhood.
As a crowd gathered around the spot where the rocket had fallen, holes from its shrapnel could be seen peppered across the walls of nearby homes. Children ran by, picking up the loose nails and pieces of metal that had been packed into the rocket's hull - a common characteristic of the home-made rockets, which creates an even deadlier payload.
Yisrael Hazaka (Strong Israel) Chairman Ephraim Sneh was also on the scene, inspecting the damage and talking to residents.
"I just came from a shopping mall here in Ashkelon where a Grad rocket landed a few hundred meters away," Sneh told the Post. "I want to tell you how impressed I was by the reaction of the people there. No one panicked, nobody ran away, and I've seen an overwhelming response from Ashkelon residents of bravery and courage. These people are standing fast in the face of terror."
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.