The rocket and mortar fire directed at Be'er Sheva and at communities near the border with the Gaza Strip has disrupted classes at schools in the region.

The mayor of Be'er Sheva, Rubik Danilovich, decided early Wednesday morning, after the first Grad rocket fell on the city at 5:30 A.M., to cancel classes. As a result, 60,000 children remained at home.

Some teachers, however, attempted to hold classes over the Internet.

Danilovich was expected to assess late last night whether to open schools on Thursday.

Fearing an escalation of the hostilities, Ashdod's mayor, Yehiel Lasri, decided to cancel classes for the next two days for the city's 50,000 students.

He said special caution needed be exercised where children were concerned and that only partial protection could be provided at Ashdod's schools.

The Grad rocket that opened Wednesday's volley from the Gaza Strip awakened residents of Be'er Sheva, who were seen rushing to shelters and protected spaces when the sirens sounded.

"The mood here is tough," said city resident Ya'akov Cohen. "The people are anxious. We found it hard to function for hours. We didn't let our children leave home." He said the worst aspect of the situation was that people felt powerless. "I don't intend to send my children to class until things calm down," he said. "I want them to be home, near the shelter."

Worshipers at the Shalom synagogue in Be'er Sheva were in the middle of prayers when a Grad rocket fell a few dozen meters away. Rocket fragments shattered synagogue windows. "We felt everything shake.

We were afraid the synagogue would fall in, "said Emile Maimon from the congregation, who said that although expensive stained glass windows were damaged, the synagogue's Torah scrolls were not.

Fear attacks will continue

Be'er Sheva residents expressed fear that the Grad rocket attacks would become routine.

"We don't want to be like Sderot," said city resident Avi Peretz, referring to the town on the border with that Gaza Strip that has suffered from rocket fire for years.

"If someone [in authority] doesn't come to his senses and respond strongly, we will get used to getting up in the morning with sirens and will have to reinforce the entire city," Peretz added.

Several hours after the second rocket hit Be'er Sheva on Wednesday, at 9:30 A.M., life began to return to normal in the city.

Restaurants and cafes began to fill up. Shoppers went about making their purchases, and the site where the Grad rocket had fallen hours earlier became a tourist site of sorts.