Ashkelon residents treated for shock

Izzadin Kassam, Hamas's military wing, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

kassam ashkelon 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
kassam ashkelon 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
For the second time in two days, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip succeeded in launching a Kassam rocket into Ashkelon Wednesday evening. Eight people suffering from shock, among them two children, were evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center after a missile slammed into an open field near the southern neighborhood of Shimshon, according to the Ashkelon municipality. Minutes later, a second rocket hit near an orchard in Kibbutz Zikim in the western Negev. No injuries were reported. Izzadin Kassam, Hamas's military wing, claimed responsibility for the attacks late Wednesday. Smaller cities and towns like Sderot and Kibbutz Zikim have often been hit by crude rockets, but Ashkelon - a city of 120,000 people that is 12 kilometers outside of Gaza - had been out of range until Tuesday, when a twin-engine Kassam launched by Hamas terrorists slammed into a schoolyard in the city center. Wednesday night's rocket salvo came hours after Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri convened an emergency council meeting in which he called on members to encourage calm among their constituents. "We are responsible for the residents of Ashkelon and it is crucial that we put out a united message," Mehatzri told city council members. "This is not a time for oppositions or coalitions. We must do everything we can to prevent panic." Chairman Eli Sheva directed criticism at some council members for contributing to the sense of panic. "According to some of the interviews given to the press [Tuesday] night, you would think an army had invaded Ashkelon," he said. "There is no doubt that life in the city has been affected, but we must be careful with how the threat is represented." Deputy Mayor Levi Shafran told local leaders they should trust that the defense establishment would respond appropriately, considering Hamas's upgraded Kassam constituted a concrete threat against strategic national infrastructure within Ashkelon. Shafran urged council members to take caution when making comparisons between Ashkelon and the Kassam-afflicted town of Sderot, and to put out a message that life in the city would continue as normal despite the realization that their city was now within range of Gaza Strip rocket squads. "So we should now say the rockets are hitting south of Ashdod?" one council member said incredulously. Some council members demanded the coastal town be outfitted with an early-warning system modeled on the Red Dawn system currently used in Sderot. A majority believed such a system would only increase panic, while others like council member Avi Ayash said increased alarm among residents would be acceptable even if only one person were to be saved by an early warning. Council member Nissim Halfon pushed for a demand of financial compensation from the government due to negative economic consequences that would result from missile barrages similar to those falling on Sderot. He said that hotels were reporting a 20 percent cancellation rate after the first rocket attack. Although notoriously inaccurate, a direct strike to strategic installations in Ashkelon, such as Israel Electric's Rotenberg power facility and the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, could affect services to large regions in the south of Israel. With reports Wednesday night of ground forces set to enter northern Gaza, an Ashkelon Municipality spokesperson wished the IDF luck in the impending incursion. "We trust and are sure that they will do their work as necessary and put an end to the Kassam threat to cities in the south," she said. AP contributed to this report.