Gaza rockets cause shock, fear in southern Israel

Zulfira has been living in Sderot near the border with Gaza for 14 years. For the past eight years she endured Kassam rockets fired from Gaza. “I just pray,” she said.

She was evacuated from Sderot on 28 December with her son and nine other single-parent families but had to return on 1 January because she can no longer be accommodated in the hotel in which she was staying in Netanya city, central Israel.

Zulfira's sister, Elvira is on the brink of tears at the thought of returning to Sderot with her six children. “I trained my children to stay away from windows at all times. We hide under the stairs and wait.”

Zulfira’s and Elvira’s plight is shared by many in Israel.

The Israeli authorities estimate that over one million citizens are within missile range, including those in major cities such as Beer Sheba, Ashkelon, Ashdod and several smaller towns and villages.

A red alert system is in place. Residents in Ashdod have 45 seconds to reach shelter; in Ashkelon they have 30 seconds to do so, and in Sderot only 15 seconds.

Home front command has ordered all schools and public institutes within 40km of the Gaza border closed until further notice. Public shelters are being opened in every city, including some which had been closed for decades.

In Ashdod, a booming seaside city with a population of over 200,000, the mortar attacks from Gaza have come as a complete surprise. On the night of 29 December, a mother of four, Irit Shetrit, was killed in an attack: Now the children are kept at home and shops and streets are empty.

Photo: Tom Spender/IRIN
A Qassam rocket is displayed in Sderot town hall against a background of pictures of Sderot residents killed in rocket and other attacks

Shell shock

The municipality of Ashdod has opened a treatment centre for those with shell shock and quickly opened all the public shelters.

In Gedera, 30km from Tel Aviv and with a population of 18,000, kindergartens and schools were closed on 31 December after a mortar landed in the area.

B., a local resident, rushed from work to collect his one-year-old girl. “I could not believe the rockets have reached the city; we have no experience of this, we're utterly shocked that the mortars have come this far.”

From Beer Sheba, Soroka Hospital spokesperson Inbar Darom-Gotter told IRIN on 1 January: “We've treated over 150 cases of shell shock in the last four days - much more than physical injuries. The hospital is well prepared for upcoming emergencies and missile attacks.”

Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon is now working in an emergency mode; all non-urgent operations have been suspended. In the four days up to 1 January, the hospital treated 116 people - 74 shell shock cases, and 42 physical injuries.

A special TV channel (33) broadcasts in several languages, relaying information and instructions. Preparations are being made to ensure sufficient food supplies. Municipalities in central and northern Israel have begun preparing accommodation for southern residents in case they are evacuated.