Residents of the southern town of Sderot described Thursday the desperate dash to safety as 150 rockets, fired overnight from the Gaza Strip rained down on southern Israel, including one barrage that slammed into the city injuring several people.
There are no more than 15 seconds from the moment the rocket warning siren sounds until a projectile impacts on the city, during which residents have to get themselves — and their families — into bomb shelters or reinforced rooms in their homes.
Volleys of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night and into Thursday prompting the Israeli Air Force to bomb at least 12 Hamas positions across the Gaza Strip, the military said.
Sderot resident Etti Kramer told Hadashot TV news how she and her husband dashed to get their seven children into their family’s reinforced room as they heard explosions around them.
“I ran and grabbed the baby,” she said. “The rest of the children ran [to the reinforced room] but didn’t arrive in time. We started to hear explosions and we continued getting the children into the reinforced room. You have to choose which of your children you save. I grabbed the baby and the two-year old and ran to the shelter.”
Another resident, Yossi Lok, recounted how his neighbor was injured by a rocket which their apartment building.
Lok said he had retreated to his reinforced room after the rocket siren alert when off.
“I heard a huge explosion and saw a flash of fire,” he said. “The neighbor cried out that he’d been hit. I came downstairs and saw him really badly hurt, covered in blood. His home was on fire because his gas canister had been hit.”
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“We were afraid that there would be more explosions,” he said. “We all got away from there.”
Lok said his home was also hit, a rocket landing on his roof.
“It was lucky there were no residents in the unit,” he said.
“We were with the kids,” resident Asher Pizam told Hadashot. “There was hysteria and pandemonium. We heard a whistle and a hit after several sirens. There was a lot of stress and panic, especially with the children…We hope the government does all it can so we have quiet here.”
In video shared on social media, dozens of parents and children in a Sderot playground could be seen running for bomb shelters as a rocket exploded in the city sending smoke billowing into the air.
One mother can be heard desperately seeking her son, while at the same time trying to calm a young girl by assuring her that there would no more rockets. Children and parents crammed into overcrowded shelters, with some crouching on the ground outside, as they tried to find safety.
Hanita Kohanik, a resident of the city which has suffered rocket fire from Gaza since 2001, spoke to the Hebrew-language Ynet website about the traumatic day-to-day life in the south.
“It is terrible,” Kohanik said. “There is nothing more I can say. It isn’t easy. We are a family of four and a dog, which gets more confused that we do.”
“As far as we are concerned each time the security situation deteriorates — the anxieties resurface,” she continued
Her son, she said, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and doesn’t leave home.
“The intermittent and sporadic fire are a daily war,” Kohanik said.
One rocket — or possibly shrapnel from an Iron Dome interceptor — damaged a home in Sderot late Wednesday night, police said. At least two rockets struck the city earlier in the day, injuring three people. Two more were injured in attacks Thursday morning. At least eight others were treated for panic attacks, including two pregnant women who went into labor.
Wave after wave of rocket attacks set off sirens throughout the night in the Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Eshkol regions outside Gaza, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters, where many bedded down with their families.
The rocket attacks came amid a period of heightened tensions along the Gaza border, following months of clashes and exchanges of fire. On Tuesday, Hamas vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its members killed by IDF tank fire after the army mistakenly thought a military exercise had been a cross-border attack.
At least 11 rockets or mortar shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said.
Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attacks, saying it was avenging the deaths of the two operatives killed the day before.
The United Nations condemned the Hamas rocket fire.
One Palestinian man was reportedly killed in the strike, 30-year-old Ali al-Ghandour was killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
In addition to al-Ghandour, at least six other Palestinians were injured in the Gaza Strip as a result of the IDF strikes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
The Israeli military said the terror group, with which it was fought three wars in the past decade, would bear the consequences of any further violence from the Gaza Strip.
Residents of southern Israel were told to remain close to bomb shelters Thursday in case of additional rockets or mortar shells from Gaza.
Wednesday’s rocket fire represented a major uptick in tensions along the border, amid intensive talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.
Such an agreement is meant to end not only rocket launches and shootings from Gaza but also the regular incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Palestinian enclave that have burned large swaths of land in southern Israel and caused millions of shekels of damage.
Throughout Wednesday, at least 11 fires were sparked in southern Israel by airborne arson devices launched from the Gaza Strip. Israeli firefighters extinguished all of them, according to a spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Services.
Adam Rasgon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.