Three Katyusha rockets slammed into northern Israel at approximately 5:25 p.m. Sunday, with no prior warning. Damage was caused, though no one was hurt. Two rockets landed in Kiryat Shmona and one near Kfar Blum. The streets of Kiryat Shmona quickly emptied of pedestrians and cars, but returned to routine two hours later.
The rockets, 107 mm Katyushas, were fired from Lebanon, although there are conflicting reports as to who actually launched the attack. Hizbullah broadcast firm denials of any connection with the attack, and Lebanese army officials agreed: they said they believed the rocket fire came from a Palestinian enclave.
IDF sources identified three launches from opposite the Ramim ridge, five to seven kilometers north of Israel's northern border. The area adjoins a number of positions occupied by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). One of the missiles reportedly landed next to a United Nations outpost in Adaysa.
One of the rockets landed in the town’s industrial area near the Neviot water factory, damaging the building and barely missing a crowd of people standing nearby. Passenger cars were also hit by shrapnel, and one car sustained moderate damage in the front. One woman suffered shock and more people suffered anxiety attacks, but no other injuries were reported. A second rocket exploded in a residential area in the city, and the third landed in a field next to Kfar Blum.
Approximately 1,000 Katyusha rockets hit Kiryat Shmona during the Second Lebanon War last summer. The last Katyusha hit on August 14th 2006.
Residents were initially ordered into the shelters, but no one needed to be reminded; last summer’s memories of the Second Lebanon War are still fresh. They were soon told they return to their daily affairs, but some found that hard to do.
“We hope it was only an isolated incident,” said a mother who was interviewed on Army Radio. “I had just gone out to buy a cake, and came right back. My son was crying, and I held him and calmed him down, telling him everything is okay, and not to worry.” She is not waiting to see what happens next, however. She’s leaving. “I hope everything will be okay, and there won’t be anymore. But I am taking my child out of here for now.”
City officials strove to minimize the effect of the attack, saying no further attacks were anticipated. Nonetheless, the 24-hour municipal hotline has been activated, and Magen David Adom emergency medical services in the north were placed on the highest alert.
Mayor Chaim Barbivai called on the Israeli and Lebanese governments to issue a strong response to the rocket fire. In an interview with Channel 2 TV news, Mayor Barbivai said, "Heaven help us if we have another summer like the last one. That would be a tragedy."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he viewed the attack with grave concern, and told officials he intended to discuss the incident with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at their meeting in New York, planned for Sunday evening.
Outgoing Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with defense establishment officials at the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv to discuss possible responses to the attack. Mr. Peretz will end his tenure in the post on Monday, and party colleague Ehud Barak will take his place.
"The question of response is a complex one," an IDF source told Ynet. "We must remember that the Lebanese Army is carrying out activity in the area and doing it well. There are international forces in place and we have no interest in seeing them leave."
A Kiryat Shmona resident echoed the call, saying the issue of identifying who had launched the attack was not relevant, at least for those who were targeted. “It doesn’t really matter who fired the rockets,” he said. “What matters is that they’re firing Katyushas at us again.”