Arab terrorists in Gaza fired two Grad Katyusha missiles at southern Ashkelon late Wednesday afternoon, and one rocket scored a direct hit on a children's medical clinic inside a shopping center. Parts of the building collapsed, trapping four people for a half-hour. At least 94 people had been rushed to Barzilai Medical Center by 8:30 p.m., most suffering severe post-traumatic stress reactions.
A spokesman for the local Fire Department stated that the powerful rocket hit the building's 3rd floor and crashed down to the floor below. He said the firefighters rescued four people - including a little girl - who were trapped behind or under a collapsed wall. The destruction to the building was significant.
Israel News Photo: Flash90
The shopping center is located in the southern area of the port city. The rocket hit at approximately 5:50 PM, an hour when the area is generally crowded with shoppers.
Witnesses said no Color Red incoming rocket alert was sounded. The early warning siren that was supposed to warn Ashkelon residents of an incoming attack was turned off a few days ago after several false alarms had caused panic among residents, military sources told Haaretz. The decision to turn off the system was coordinated with the defense establishment and the political tier, the sources said.
Four people were critically wounded, Barzilai Medical Center spokeswoman Leah Maloul told Arutz-7's Israel National News, including a 24-year-old mother and her two-year-old baby daughter, both of whom sustained severe head injuries, as well as the doctor who was treating her at the time of the attack, who suffered facial wounds. A fourth person was severely wounded in the stomach. The doctor's assistant was lightly wounded, as were ten others. The remainder who were brought into the emergency room suffered from severe post-traumatic stress reactions, Maloul said.
Israel News Photo: Flash90
Barzilai's 100-member emergency team, comprised of a signficant number of secreterial and clerical support personnel, was mobilized immediately, she added. "They set up the calling center, all the computers -- it's a lot of work and has to be done quickly." The emergency telephone number at Barzilai Medical Center for families of people hurt in the missile attack on Ashkelon Wednesday is 12-55-171. The number serves English speakers as well as Hebrew speakers.
Family members will also be able to check up on their loved ones at their local hospital, no matter where in the country they are located, due to a unique national computer database called the ADAM system. "Every person who comes into the hospital from a terror attack of any kind is automatically entered into the national ADAM system. All the family member who lives outside the city has to do to check on their relative's condition is walk into their nearest hospital and ask them to look up the person in the ADAM system. They can do that from anywhere in the country," Maloul explained.
Ashkelon, Israel's 13th largest city with nearly 110,000 people, has come into range of Gaza's rockets over the past year and a half. Many of the rockets have landed very near the Rotenberg Power Plant, Israel's second-largest electric station, which supplies about a quarter of Israel’s electricity.
It is assumed that the afternoon's rocket attacks were timed to coincide with President Bush's visit in Israel. Analysts increasingly opine that a full-scale Israeli offensive in and against Gaza is likely to begin in a matter of days - or even earlier.
The late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords on behalf of Israel, poo-pooed fears that Ashkelon would be targeted by rockets. He said in the summer of 1995, "We know all the scare-stories of the Likud. They promised [when the first Oslo agreement was signed, in 1993] that there would be Katyushas from Gaza. It's been a year already that Gaza is mostly under PA control, and there haven't been any Katyushas, and there won't be any... The Likud is simply scared to death of peace - they are 'peace scaredy-cats' - and for this reason is reacting in a truly childish manner."
Click below to hear Rabin [in Hebrew]
Click here for other predictions of rockets at Ashkelon, and their rebuttals. A Jerusalem Post editorial, for instance, in August 1995, stated, "A particularly favored line is that the Likud's dire predictions of Gaza turning into another Lebanon, with Katyusha rockets hitting Ashkelon, have proved unrealistic and plain silly."