by Hillel Fendel
(IsraelNN.com) A total of 24 people are hospitalized, mostly for shock, following the firing of more than 30 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza on Israel on Thursday. Among them are two with shrapnel injuries.
Among the rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza on Israel on Thursday, eight long-range Grad rockets hit the coastal city of Ashkelon. The city’s 100,000-plus rocket-besieged residents were told just last night (Wednesday) by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that there was no need to change the city’s deployment plans.
The Katyusha-like were fired in several waves in the mid-afternoon hours. Two rockets slammed directly into residential homes, and shock victims were treated at the sites. One rocket landed at the northern entrance to town, and marks the longest-range hit to date.
At the same time, five Kassam rockets were being fired at Sderot and the western Negev. A 70-year-old woman in Sderot suffered shrapnel wounds; she is listed in light condition in Barzilai Hospital. Two rockets scored a direct hit on a hothouse, and the Thai workers inside were just barely able to escape unharmed.
Later in the day, eight more Kassam rockets were fired into Israel; four of them landed north and east of Gaza, and four landed in Ashkelon.
Escalation in Barak’s Statements and Threats
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warns of an impending escalation. Following his recent comments that a “solution to the Kassams is closer than thought,” Barak said on Wednesday afternoon, “A large ground offensive in Gaza is concrete and actual.”
Speaking after a high-level security consultation in the shadow of the rocket attacks on Israel, Barak said, “The responsibility for the escalation lies with Hamas, and he will bear the consequences. We will reach those who are responsible and we will hit those who carry out the attacks.”
Palestinian Authority sources report that a Hamas terrorist was killed around 2:30 PM, and others were hurt, in an Israel Air Force attack. A total of 13 Gaza Arabs – among them several terrorists – were killed in various IAF counter-terrorism attacks today, including a particularly significant attack on a Hamas position adjacent to the home of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is currently in hiding from Israel.
Thursday Morning Rockets
Prior to the latest waves of Kassam and Grad rocket attacks, 16 Kassams and 8 mortar shells had been fired at the western Negev. One of the former caused injuries to a bodyguard of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter in Sapir College; the guard was checking the area prior to a visit by Dichter in Sderot.
Fire-fighting teams in Sderot were dealing early this afternoon with two fires caused by rocket hits – one in a factory in the industrial zone, and one that set several cars ablaze when a rocket slammed down alongside them.
National Fire Department Commissioner Shimon Romach instructed fire-fighting teams in central Israel to shore up the ranks of their counterparts in Ashkelon and Sderot.
Ashkelon’s Mayor: We’re Willing to Pay the Price
Last night, following the landing of three powerful Grad rockets in Ashkelon, Mayor Roni Mahatzri talked with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The two told Mahatzri that their position was that there was still no need to activate a “Color Red” early warning system in Ashkelon. “No change need be made in the city’s deployment,” Barak said.
Mahatzri held an emergency meeting last night with representatives of the army, police, fire fighters, and emergency services. “Until now,” he said, “the firing on Ashkelon was sporadic, but now, for the first time, the rockets were fired in a purposeful manner. This was what was predicted for Ashkelon back in 2005, but we never actually experienced it until now.”
Mayor Mahatzri said his city would be willing to pay a price in exchange for increased military pressure on the terrorists: “It is clear to us that the price for intensifying the Israeli pressure on the rocket launching cells is liable to bring Ashkelon into a state of alert and one in which we may have to absorb rocket fire. We are willing to pay this price for a limited time. We are aware of the fact that such a situation will require activating an early-warning system, and that the people of Ashkelon will have to pay the price for a military offensive in Gaza. Ashkelon is ready for this, and is able to deal with it.”