Rehovot, Rishon may be in rocket range

Home Front Command instructs cities with population of 333,700 to ready their bomb shelters.

grad damage beersheba classroom 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
grad damage beersheba classroom 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Fearing that Hamas may have missiles with a range over 40 kilometers, the IDF Home Front Command has instructed the Rishon Lezion and Rehovot municipalities to prepare their bomb shelters, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The two cities have a combined population of approximately 333,700. Defense officials said Sunday that the air force had destroyed a significant percentage of Hamas's long-range Kassams and Grad-model Katyusha rockets, but that it was likely the group still had "several thousand" left. Most of Hamas's Grad rockets were produced in Iran and have a range of 20-40 kilometers. The Iranians built the missiles with a special technology and they can be dismantled into several components and then be reassembled once smuggled into Gaza. Hamas also has a number of Chinese-made 122mm Katyusha rockets that were smuggled into the Strip last January after the Islamist group blew up the border wall with Egypt. The IDF has, however, not ruled out the possibility that Hamas may have a handful of more advanced Katyushas that are capable of reaching Rishon Lezion and Rehovot. "We need to be prepared for every scenario, including the possibility that Hamas has longer-range rockets that can hit cities north of Ashdod," a source in the Home Front Command said. Last week, police were already getting ready for the possibility of rockets hitting the Rehovot area. "We are prepared with special police forces such as sappers and CSI teams," a spokeswoman said. Due to the IDF operations in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israel Police and Home Front Command are preparing for the possibility that Hamas rocket squads will be forced to operate from within built-up areas farther south. If this happens, the IDF believes that more rockets may hit Ashkelon, which enjoyed a relative respite from attacks on Sunday. The calm should not fool local authorities into letting their guard down, the newly-appointed Southern District police chief, Cmdr. Yohanan Danino, warned during a meeting with the city's Mayor Benny Vaknin. "It was relatively quiet yesterday and today, but do not be confused by this," Danino said at the Ashkelon Municipality's underground command and control room. "Difficult days lie ahead of us. I hope they don't arrive, but we have to keep our guard up." The sunny weather and lack of rockets on Sunday morning combined to lure Ashkelonites out of their homes - many have not ventured outdoors for several days. Locals sat at tables outside kiosks and restaurants, hoping that a warning raid siren would not spoil their morning. "I just hope this lasts," said Shlomi Mizrahi, the owner of a shwarma stand near the municipality. Ashkelon's northern and southern neighbors remained under fire, however, with buildings in Sderot and Ashkelon absorbing direct rocket impacts. Around 50 rockets had been fired into southern Israel by evening, with the Lahish and Negev regions targeted. Sixteen rockets were fired at Netivot. Thirteen were fired at Sderot, and another 13 were fired at Ofakim. Police sappers had recovered 10 rockets by the evening. Three people suffered light wounds and at least eight people suffered shock, Magen David Adom paramedics said. In Ashdod, a Grad slammed into a store and sparked a blaze in a storeroom, lightly wounding one man and causing extensive damage to the structure. The victim was evacuated to Rehovot's Kaplan Medical Center. The air raid siren in Ashdod failed to warn residents of the approaching rocket, leading the Home Front Command to investigate. The problem was eventually blamed on a failure to connect the area to the siren system, a fault which had been repaired, the command said. In Sderot, a rocket slammed into a home, causing two people to suffer shock.