Some 13 Kassams hit western Negev town; at least four people suffer shock.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, JPOST STAFF
The Kassam rocket fire on Sderot and the western Negev heated up late Saturday evening, with another volley of three rockets late in the evening bringing the total of hits Saturday to at least 13.
At least one rocket struck a building and damaged it, but no one was reported wounded.
On Saturday afternoon, a Kassam hit Sderot, damaging a car. Four people were reported in shock, but there were no reports of other casualties.
Earlier, two Kassam rockets hit the city, landing in an open field and starting a fire but causing no casualties.
After several hours of quiet, the rockets on Saturday joined a Kassam salvo fired on Friday night.
Several minutes after the Kassams landed, IAF aircraft shot at the unit that launched the rockets.
Palestinian sources claimed the unit members were unharmed and that the IAF strike hit civilians. The IDF said the launching unit was clearly identified and furthermore, that the air force was operating in an area where Palestinian civilians were clearly warned beforehand not to enter.
The IDF added that any civilians entering zones from where Kassams are launched are acting on their own responsibility and that the IDF would not hesitate to strike further at any Kassam launching units.
Olmert pays surprise visit to Sderot
Three rockets fell in Sderot and the nearby Negev settlements Friday night, one directly hitting a house nearby. Five people were being treated for shock. One person was lightly wounded.
At least 15 rockets hit the western Negev throughout Friday and three people in total were lightly wounded and many were treated for shock.
Even as the IDF continued to target Kassam cells in the Gaza Strip, two Kassam rockets hit the town earlier in the afternoon. One landed near a school. None were wounded and no damage was reported.
The rockets landed while IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was visiting the town. Ashkenazi met with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and visited one of the houses hit by a Kassam.
Ashkenazi said he had come "to see how the residents were" and offer what help he could provide.
Earlier, a Kassam scored a direct hit on a house in Sderot, and another slammed into a gas station. Magen David Adom medics treated three people for light shrapnel wounds and a number of others for shock.
Some six rockets rockets had landed before in open areas in the western Negev. There were no reports of casualties or damage.
The IDF reported hitting the Kassam cell responsible for the first barrage shortly after the rockets were fired. At least one of the terrorists was killed.
Late Thursday night, a Kassam rocket struck a synagogue in Sderot, wounding one person and sending a number of others into shock.
Over 200 people had been at the synagogue only a half an hour prior to the rocket strike, and 20 to the 30 of them were still in the area at the time of the attack, Noam Bedin, director of the Sderot Information Center told the Jerusalem Post.
One person was lightly wuounded in the attack, and a number of others suffered from shock, Bedin said.
Earlier, fear, panic and bitterness reached the boiling point in Sderot as angry residents burst into the office of Mayor Eli Moyal and demanded to be evacuated from the city.
They wanted to join about 800 others, whom the city had dispatched earlier in the day to a hotel in the center of the country for three nights. The locals were bused out as a relief measure after the southern border city was hit by dozens of Palestinian-launched Kassam rockets fired from Gaza in the last three days; 20 fell on Wednesday alone.
"We've had enough," Moyal's distraught citizens shouted as they surrounded his desk, just as Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, entered the room for a planned press conference to announce a NIS 6.5 million donation to Sderot - intended to rehabilitate its 58 public bomb shelters, of which only 23 are operational.
The angry crowd, some of whom clutched small children and others their overnight bags, quieted down as Eckstein entered. "He's the man who can take us out of here," one man said of Eckstein, letting him pass. But when the rabbi's statement related solely to the bomb shelters, they were unimpressed.
"We want to leave," they begged.
Moyal told them that the Defense Ministry had only provided funding for that first group.
But under the glare of the television cameras recording the press conference, Moyal agreed that Eckstein would fund a relief trip for a few hundred more residents.
Among them was Ivon Asuly, 65, who was out of breath after she walked up two flights of stairs to Moyal's office. "This is difficult," she said, as she clutched the banister and paused at the top.
A resident of Sderot for 45 years, she had placed herself on the evacuation list, along with her daughter and four grandchildren, the day before.
But when she arrived in the parking lot to get on the bus at 10:45 a.m., with a small bag and a white baseball cap, she was pushed aside by other residents, some of whom had not signed up.
So she and several hundred others waited outside the city's municipal center until 9 p.m., when they were picked up for the Eckstein-funded temporary exodus.
Also there was Mali Hamuel, whose nephew, Afik Zahavi, 4, was killed when a rocket fell near him as he walked across the street to his nursery school in Sderot in 2004.
On Tuesday night, a rocket destroyed a community center where Hamuel works with children. No one was inside at the time.
Hamuel said she had only decided on Thursday afternoon to try and get herself, her 14-year-old son and her 65-year-old mother onto the list of families that Eckstein was sending out.
When a rocket fell in the morning her son, Sapir, called her, sounding hysterical, she said.
"I'm scared to be here," said Sapir, who sat on a stone bench near his bags awaiting the transport out.
He has lived with the threat of a rocket attack since he was eight. In the last six years, Palestinians have launched some 4,500 rockets into the southern area around the Gaza border.
Sapir said he has only a distant memory of what it was like to play outside safely. "Now, I'm always worried that a rocket will fall," he said.
Moyal said he understood why residents wanted to leave in light of the renewed barrage of Kassam rockets, but he noted that many of the city's 24,000 residents had opted to stay. The people who yelled at him in his office, he said, embarrassed the city by their behavior. "This is not the face of Sderot we want to show," he added.
He was grateful, he said, for the donation by Eckstein, which was funded by Christians in the US, even though the shelter-rehabilitation project won't be completed for another three months. For the last year, Moyal said, he had been pleading with the government to fix the shelters so that people who are scared to sleep in their homes can go there at night.
In the interim, the Jewish Agency on Thursday sent a truck to each of the 23 operational shelters. Wearing white T-shirts with a big red heart and the words, "I love Israel," Jewish Agency employees distributed fans, cleaning supplies and other equipment.
On Wednesday, billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak funded a relief trip for 1,000 Sderot residents.
The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services held an emergency meeting with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Thursday to plan an evacuation and improve treatment for Sderot's elderly and disabled citizens, Nahum Ido, spokesman for the ministry, said.
Ido said that already Thursday, 75 disabled individuals had been evacuated from the besieged town to a hotel in nearby Arad, where they will stay for the next three days.
Furthermore, the JDC, which donated $1 million from the United Jewish Communities Emergency Relief Fund to evacuate disabled citizens over the next two weeks, provided hundreds of housebound people with special beepers to notify them of a Kassam attack.
Ido said the ministry had also dispatched more social workers and counselors into the field to help traumatized residents.
Orly Doron, spokeswoman for the JDC, said that the organization, which facilitates numerous community and social welfare based projects around the country, was also providing the ministry with post-trauma counselors and social workers.
Throughout the day and into the evening Thursday, rockets continued to hit the region. One struck a factory in Sderot and caused the building to burst into flames, which firefighters extinguished.
Earlier in the day, a rocket hit a high school near Sapir College and lightly wounded two pupils. Luckily the students in the class had moved into another room that was protected against such attacks.
In spite of all this, not everyone wanted to leave. Haim Gabai, who also stopped by city hall, said he intended to stay because his fate was in God's hands. "When it's my time to go," he said, "not even a shelter will help me."
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.
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