First responders and police came under censure on Tuesday morning after it emerged that a man and a woman who were in an apartment that was hit by a rocket from the Gaza Strip weren’t found for an entire hour after the attack.
The man was killed and the woman was seriously injured when the projectile hit an apartment building in Ashkelon shortly after midnight. The rocket appeared to hit the upper floors of the four-story apartment building, leaving a gaping hole in its side.
The man was found dead under the rubble, according to the United Hatzalah rescue service. The woman, also in her 40s, was found in serious condition near the man and was rushed to the city’s Barzilai Hospital for treatment.
The man was identified as 48-year-old Mahmoud Abu Asbah, a Palestinian resident of Halhul north of Hebron. The woman wasn’t immediately identified, and neighbors said they hadn’t known the two.
The fatality was the first in Israel after a day that saw more than 300 rockets and mortar rounds fired at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. The series of massive barrages stretched past midnight Monday and into Tuesday morning, prompting massive Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza.
According to reports, police and firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after the building in Ashkelon was hit. Within 40 minutes, they located a critically wounded 60-year-old woman amid the rubble on the first floor and took her to the hospital, along with six other lightly injured victims. They then left the area, according to an eyewitness cited by the Haaretz daily.
The man and woman were eventually discovered by a civilian, Shlomi Lankry, who came to document the extensive damage and said he found them under a wall that had collapsed.
“As I’m photographing the walls and how they collapsed, I hear a noise,” Lankry said, according to Haaretz. “I saw something move, I thought it was a piece of paper. I pulled the paper and realized I was touching the woman’s fingers. I understood there was someone under the ruins.
“I began digging with another civilian who joined me, while shouting to people to call Magen David Adom. I dig more and then I see the man’s hand, the woman emerges and I understand the man is already dead,” he said.
Lankry said that when he entered the building no police or firefighters were in the area, and speculated that had they stayed, the man’s life could have been saved.
“This was a terrible screw-up, how were they not found?” said a resident of a neighboring building that was also struck by a rocket.
Police said that all of the apartments in the building were checked four to five times, but that the particular unit where the two were located had sustained the most damage “and everything was destroyed.”
Ashkelon was hit by several barrages late Monday, with another home also sustaining a direct hit. One person suffered light injuries in that attack.
Residents of Ashkelon accused the government on Tuesday morning of failing to adequately protect them from rocket attacks.
Bar Damari told Hadashot TV news that her building, like many in the city, has no shelters and that she has nowhere to hide when an alarm sounds. “We’re just waiting for a miracle,” she said.
The attacks appeared to taper off after 1 a.m., but resumed in full force in the morning. A rocket hit a yard outside a residential home in one of the communities in the Eshkol region, without causing injuries.
Meanwhile, strikes on buildings in Netivot and Sderot caused significant damage and minor injuries to the occupants, and sparked fires in the surrounding area.
The rocket attacks, which began with several large barrages on small towns near the Gaza border in the afternoon, have threatened to plunge the restive region into all-out war, casting a shadow over intensive ceasefire efforts.
The IDF said dozens of incoming projectiles from Gaza were shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system. Most of the rest landed in open fields outside Israeli communities, but a number struck homes and buildings in cities and towns across the south.
In response to the attacks, the Israeli military launched a series of strikes against dozens of targets inside the Gaza Strip, including multi-story buildings housing a Hamas military intelligence center and the headquarters of Al-Aqsa TV.
The army also said it targeted three attack tunnels operated by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two largest terror groups in the Strip.
At least three Palestinians — all claimed by terror groups as members — were killed in the army’s initial strikes and Gaza’s health ministry said early Tuesday that a fourth person succumbed to wounds sustained in a strike the day before.
The fourth fatality, 22, was not immediately identified.
The attacks began shortly after 4:30 p.m., when terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli bus near the border, seriously injuring an IDF soldier who was standing near it. Dozens of other soldiers had previously been on the bus, parked near the Black Arrow memorial near Kibbutz Kfar Azza, and exited moments before the missile struck.
On Monday evening, large numbers of IDF tanks and other military vehicles were seen being moved down to the Gaza border on the backs of large trucks. Earlier in the day, before the barrages began, the army also ordered extra infantry battalions to the region.
The barrages from Gaza came less than a day after an IDF special operations officer was killed in an operation gone awry that also killed seven Palestinian gunmen in the Strip. Following Sunday night’s incident, the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas said “the blood of our righteous martyrs will not be wasted.”
The renewed clashes dashed hopes that Israel and Hamas would uphold a precarious ceasefire agreement recently brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.
In light of the barrage from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military ordered residents of communities near the Gaza Strip to remain inside bomb shelters until further notice.
Residents of the cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod were told to stay within close proximity of bomb shelters and protected spaces.
A run-off election scheduled for Tuesday in the Hof Ashkelon region was postponed.
The military also preemptively canceled school for Tuesday in the Gaza border region and in the central Negev and Lachish regions, including in Israel’s fourth largest city Beersheba.
In addition, businesses were ordered closed in the Gaza region, along with government offices, unless they are considered essential, the army said. No large gatherings were allowed in southern Israel on Monday night and Tuesday, it said.
In the central Negev and Lachish regions, which are farther from the Strip, businesses are only ordered shut if they do not have a bomb shelter nearby. Government services there were also scaled back.
In those regions, located dozens of kilometers from Gaza, only groups smaller than 300 would be allowed to gather on Tuesday, the army said.
Judah Ari Gross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.