An Israeli kindergarten in an Eshkol region community near the Gaza Strip opened normally on Tuesday, despite a mortar shell landing right outside it shortly before the children came in at the start of the day.
“I told the kids our kindergarten is the safest place in existence,” kindergarten teacher Tova Ludmer Gigi told reporters after the shell struck a tree in the nearby yard. “They know that in case of danger at home they run to the safe room, and here the entire place is reinforced.”
“It is adorable to hear the kids,” she added. “They ask, ‘Tova, what is a rocket? What is it made of?’ They say they saw what happened outside when they were on the way here, but on the other hand we are sticking to our routine.”
“The children are dancing, talking… expressing themselves. Some are a bit more afraid, blocking their ears and saying ‘there was a rocket alarm,'” Ludmer Gigi added.
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus visited the site, and the military published a video showing the damage caused by shrapnel to the kindergarten’s reinforced structure — including to its front door.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus is reporting from the Israeli kindergarten that was hit by several mortars earlier this morning. The kindergarten is located in a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip pic.twitter.com/vZBa0y0UJm
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 29, 2018
Meanwhile, residents of communities in the area published videos with their thoughts about the first rocket alarm they’ve heard in almost four years, with Adele Raemer saying it was “a really scary morning.”
Resident Adva Klein said that, she only got two hours of sleep due to the noise of artillery, planes and gunfire.
The attack, which triggered three rounds of sirens in as many hours in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions, was claimed by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, apparently as revenge for the IDF killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.
The army said some 28 mortar shells were fired at Israeli territory in at least three separate barrages, starting before 7 a.m. Most of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
ירי הרקטות: הרס בגן הילדים בקיבוץ באשכול pic.twitter.com/fbQLzvMO32
— matan tzuri מתן צורי (@MatanTzuri) May 29, 2018
One person was injured by shrapnel when a shell landed a few meters from him, and was taken to the Soroka hospital in Beersheba in light condition.
“I lay down on the ground, according to the rules, when the first shells exploded, and the third shell fell a few meters from me,” said the man, Eyal Iraqi, a gardener in his 40s. “I have some injuries, but thank God it only ended like this, and everything is good.”
It appeared to be the largest attack from the Gaza Strip, in terms of the number of projectiles fired, since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
President Reuven Rivlin phoned the kindergarten next to which the shell landed and told children that he and his wife, Nechama, were waiting to meet them at the President’s Residence.
The kindergarten teacher said that Rivlin’s call came during the kids’ breakfast.
“What a precious, magical person,” she said, according to Ynet. “They asked if he could speak with the children. At first I refused, because we first have to eat.
“Then I told the kids that the president wants to speak with us, I put my phone on speaker and he wished us calm and invited us to Jerusalem. I said we would be glad and honored. Right now we are looking after ourselves as much as we can.”
Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.