The launch of two rockets toward Tel Aviv Thursday evening that triggered rocket alarms in the city for the first time since 2014 caught residents by surprise, with many saying they had trouble believing it was an actual incident and not a drill or a technical malfunction.
Many residents of Israel’s second-largest city and the surrounding metropolis of Gush Dan rushed to bomb shelters and reported hearing explosions. The rockets both hit open areas, and did not cause casualties. However, five people were treated for shock by paramedics.
“I was at a friend’s. We heard a siren and we were sure it was a military drill,” Yifat, a resident of the Florentin neighborhood, was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site. “We went to the staircase, so did the neighbors and nobody knew if it was real.
“We heard two explosions that shook the building. One of the neighbors started crying. The dogs panicked.”
Ma’ayan Nissim also said that at first she didn’t believe there was an alarm until news reports began coming in.
“We were startled. I straight away went out to the balcony and my husband shouted at me to go into the bomb shelter. We heard a loud bang and understood there may have been rockets fired,” she said, adding that her friends who had been at restaurants didn’t even get up because they couldn’t believe the alarm was real.
The confusion was perhaps most pronounced at a local theater, where the sirens interrupted the play “Oresteia,” a Greek tragedy dealing with an endless war, right after one of the characters declared war.
“Real life interrupted the show,” Lena Kreindlin, the director of the Gesher Theater, told the Walla site. “Two minutes before a recorded explosion was supposed to be sounded onstage, we heard the real alarm outside the hall. At first the audience didn’t take notice because they thought it was an ambulance siren or something.
“When we heard the explosion, we stopped the play for five minutes and told the audience to go close to the walls. We then continued the play. It was an unpleasant experience. Real life burst onto the stage,” she added.
A Euroleague basketball match between Israel’s top team Maccabi Tel Aviv and Turkey’s Anadolu Efes continued normally with 11,000 people in attendance who apparently did not hear the sirens.
Elsewhere, Aviv, a resident of the city center, told Channel 12: “My body is shaking. This must be about the elections. They are going to ruin the whole summer.”
Restaurant owner Dror Shabtai said that after the alarm, “People came into the restaurant, panicking and crying. A minute later there were two blasts. We weren’t ready for it, it came out of nowhere. But now everyone is already smiling and happy.”
It wasn’t immediately clear which group in Gaza was responsible for the surprise launch, which occurred on the eve of the weekly Hamas-spurred Friday mass rally against Israel along the Strip’s border.
Both the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups denied being behind the launches, and no Palestinian faction took immediate responsibility.
The missile launches come less than a month before the April 9 Knesset elections, and two months before Tel Aviv is due to host the Eurovision Song Contest, a major international event that is expected to draw many thousands of tourists from all over Europe.
It was the first time rockets were fired at Tel Aviv since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014; launches directed at residents of Israeli communities near Gaza have remain relatively frequent.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.