Kassam rocket
Kassam rocket Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

Children in the Gaza and beyond, in the farther reaches of the western Negev, went to school Sunday while listening carefully for the blare of the Color Red incoming missile alert siren. The first attacks had already struck before they were ready to leave their homes for the day.

A foreign national was wounded at around 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning in the first of at least 14 Kassam attacks that had struck the western Negev by midafternoon, and a mortar shell exploded near the Kibbutz Kfar Aza home of Kadima MK Shai Hermesh soon after. The wounded man was a foreign worker at a greenhouse in a kibbutz in the Ashkelon coastal region, who suffered shrapnel wounds in his arm after a Kassam exploded nearby. He was taken to the nearby Barzilai Medical Center in the port city.

Less than an hour after that, the Color Red incoming missile alert system wailed its warning in Sderot, just in time to send residents racing for shelter to avoid the next barrage. This time, a home was struck.

“The house is destroyed. I have two stories. The entire second story went,” reported Sderot resident Maya Iver to IDF Army Radio shortly after her home suffered a direct hit. The terrified woman was treated for traumatic shock but miraculously escaped physical injury. Four Kassams rained down in and around the city of Sderot, and two struck the industrial area in the port city of Ashkelon.

One rocket exploded near a cultural center in the Sha'ar HaNegev region, and another landed next to an elementary school. In accordance with orders from the IDF’s Home Front, the schoolchildren were ordered to remain inside the protected structures in which they learn, and will not be allowed outside to play during their recess breaks. The rule will remain in effect until their holiday break for Chanukah begins on Tuesday.

A second rocket struck in the Sha’ar HaNegev region but did not detonate. The third Kassam landed in the Eshkol region. The mortar attack on MK Hermesh’s kibbutz, where the fields border the Gaza separation barrier, came less than two hours later. It reinforced the possibility that residents might abandon the community if the government doesn’t take action.

“From the moment the ‘ceasefire’ began on June 19, Defense Minister Ehud Barak in effect surrendered to Gaza terrorists,” Hermesh charged. “The State of Israel has surrendered its sovereignty over the Gaza Belt area due to electoral considerations.” Three mortar shells were fired at the kibbutz.

The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the morning barrage which followed a weekend in which Gaza terrorists peppered the region with rockets and mortar shells.

The Israel Air Force responded with an air strike on a rocket launching terror cell in the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanoun, less than a mile away from Sderot. The IDF confirmed the rocket launcher was armed and ready for firing at the western Negev.

At least 11 rockets and 16 mortar shells struck southern Israel in attacks by Gaza terrorists throughout the day on Saturday, beginning with an attack during Sabbath morning prayers.

The IDF retaliated with two air strikes on rocket-launching terrorist cells in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiyeh. One terrorist was killed. According to local sources quoted by the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Acharanot, the dead operative was Ali Hijazi, a member of the Eiman Judeh group and brother-in-law of its commander. The group is affiliated with the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades terrorist organization, which is sponsored by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

Other attacks throughout Saturday were launched by the Hamas-led Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, one of the three groups responsible for kidnapping IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. There were no reports of casualties or damage in any of Saturday's attacks.