5 hurt in Ashkelon as close to 50 rockets hit southern Israel
Three hurt in strike on marina, two in attack on residential area; IDF wires nearby towns to 'Red Color' alert.
Five Israelis were wounded in two separate strikes on the southern port town of Ashkelon on Saturday, as Palestinian militants in Gaza launched close to rockets at southern Israel over the course of the day.
Some 37 of the rockets fired were Grad-type missiles and Qassams and the rest were mortar shells.
Meanwhile the Palestinian death toll in clashes with Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip climbed to 61, since the operation to halt rocket fire began in the morning hours.
Two rockets hit southern Israel on Saturday evening, one striking directly into a house in Sderot and the other an open field. The house was empty at the time of the strike.
On Saturday afternoon, three people were wounded when rockets hit the marina in Ashkelon, some 15 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. One of the three sustained moderate wounds, while the other two were lightly hurt. A number of people at the scene of the attack were treated for shock.
Earlier, four rockets slammed into the town, one of which scored a direct hit on a house. The three other rockets hit a residential neighborhood.
Two people were wounded while two more were treated for shock. One car was left burning nearby.
Israel Radio said the wounded from the first strike were treated at Barzilai Medical Center in the city, which was itself the target of a rocket strike earlier in the week.
A rocket also struck a building in the educational youth village of "Kfar Silver," causing damage to a structure.
Although authorities have recently wired the city to the "Code Red" early warning system, residents have complained that they were unable to hear its activation, Israel Radio reported.
In response to the barrage on Saturday, the IDF's Home Front Command expanded the number of communities in the Ashkelon area to be wired to the warning system.
The system has now been activated in the nearby communities of Bat Hadar, Beit Shikma, Talmei Yafeh, Gia, Briha, Misha'an and Kfar Silver. It will operate from existing loudspeakers in the towns.
Meanwhile, the Israel Air Force on Saturday evening bombed a truck in the northern Gaza Strip carrying at least 160 rockets ready for launching at Israel.
'We didn't expect to come to a place where there is a war'
Resident Walter Greenberg was not at home at the time a rocket slammed into his home, where his parents were staying. Greenberg told Haaretz that he received a telephone call from his parents, who were hard-pressed to describe what had just transpired.
"My father suffers from post-traumatic epilepsy and I'm very anxious about his situation," Greenberg, a man in his 20s, said. "Both of my parents were taken to a hotel in the city by the welfare services. Five years ago, we made aliyah from Argentina. We didn't expect to come to a place where there is a war. The thought that our house would get hit never occurred to us."
Ashkelon residents said that beginning Saturday night, they plan to block highways and demonstrate in protest of the ongoing rocket fire.
"The people in this city will not agree to pay the price that the residents of Sderot have paid in recent years," Ashkelon resident Maxim Attias said.
"The protest and the opposition to the situation needs to start now. Otherwise, we will come down with a case of battle shock just like the residents of Sderot, who have already lost their stamina."
Local police have called in reinforcements since Thursday, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that Ashkelon would be equipped with the "Color Red" early warning system. The Ashkelon police station has added dozens of police officers from the local district and from the national headquarters.
"There's growing rage among the residents which is understandable and we will allow them to express it within the rule of law," Haim Blumenfeld, the commander of the Ashkelon police station, said.
Ashkelonites said they plan on demonstrating in front of the home of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who himself resides in the city.
On Friday, Palestinians fired at least 13 rockets at Sderot, according to Israel Radio, one of which lightly wounded a man when it hit a house in the Negev town.
Two other residents were treated for shock after the rocket attack.
Gaza militants also fired six mortar shells at Sderot on Friday.
Later in the day, a Qassam struck a street in the rocket-battered town, lightly hurting a woman and causing property damage, after which a number of bystanders were treated for shock.
One of the rockets struck near a group of MKs from Yisrael Beiteinu, including the right-wing party's chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who were visiting the area, Army Radio reported. There were no casualties.
Lieberman and his party members plan to stay in the western Negev until the end of next week, in order to express solidarity with local residents.
During the visit, the former minister called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to hold Sunday's cabinet meeting in Sderot instead of in Jerusalem, where it usually takes place.
Hundreds of residents from the center of the country traveled to the Negev town on Friday to express solidarity with the residents, far fewer than the tens of thousands who visited last Friday.
The Code Red rocket alert system was activated in Ashkelon on Friday, a day after Palestinians fired about a dozen Grad rockets on the southern port city, including one that scored a direct hit on a residential building.
However, the city is not prepared for continued rocket barrages, Mayor Roni Mehatzri said Friday. He said the authorities were not ready to treat large numbers of shock victims and that the local hospital was not reinforced against rockets.
"It's a city of 120,000 people, with large facilities - a huge soccer stadium, and a basketball stadium, and a beach," Mehatzri told Israel Radio. "No one is ready for this."
The deputy director of Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon has asked for fortifications for his emergency room, maternity ward and surgery departments.
One of the rockets fired at Ashkelon on Thursday also scored a direct hit on an apartment building. A 17-year-old girl was lightly hurt in the rocket attacks and several others suffered from shock.
Dozens of soldiers in orange berets from the IDF's Home Front Command arrived in Ashkelon on Friday and hung posters around the city instructing residents on what to do in case of a rocket attack.
Speaking to Israel Radio on Friday, Colonel Felix Sofer of the Home Front Command advised Asheklon residents whose apartments do not have built-in safe rooms that they should designate a room away from outside walls as the place to go within 15 seconds of hearing the alert.
The alert system is already in place in the Qassam-battered western Negev city of Sderot. The system was also installed in Ashkelon in preparation for wide-ranging rocket attacks, but it was never activated.
"We want a warning system, like they have in Sderot," one resident, Moshe Nissim, told Channel 2 television. "We have no protection from Palestinian attacks."
Israeli official: Ashkelon rockets were Iranian-made
A senior Israeli security official said Thursday that the rockets fired into Ashkelon so far were Iranian-made imports, with a range of about 22 kilometers (14 miles), although the military said some locally made rockets have fallen into the southern outskirts of the city.
The Grads are taken apart, smuggled into Gaza through tunnels and reassembled, and Hamas has only a limited supply, the official said on condition of anonymity, in line with briefing regulations.
However, Hamas is rapidly upgrading its Qassams, which it can mass-produce in Gaza.
Some 30 Qassam rockets also struck the Negev town of Sderot and the surrounding communities Thursday. A 70-year-old woman and a bodyguard of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter sustained minor shrapnel wounds.
The bodyguard was wounded when a Qassam hit Sapir College on the outskirts of Sderot, where a 47-year-old man was killed Wednesday in a a similar attack.
Three of the ministry's guards had arrived at the college just before a planned visit by Dichter, when the Red Color alert sounded. They were taking shelter when the Qassam exploded nearby.
At nightfall Thursday, Hamas said it had fired 82 rockets since Wednesday, including 51 at Sderot.
IDF: Hamas to have unlimited supply of rockets targeting Ashkelon by end of 2008
Hamas will likely be able to expand the range of its home-made rockets to 20 kilometers (12 miles) by the end of the year, an Israeli security official said Thursday.
Such an upgrade could give Hamas an unlimited supply of rockets for targeting the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, which encompasses a range of 10 to 17 kilometers (6 - 11 miles) from the Gaza Strip, and houses 110,000 residents, military analysts said.
The IDF said Hamas' rockets, which started out with a range of 7-8 kilometers (4-5 miles) in 2001, now have a reach of up to 16 kilometers (10 miles). The rockets are widely referred to as Qassams because they were developed by Hamas' militant group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam.
"We are doing our best to upgrade our capabilities," said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Izzedine al Qassam. "We will never have equipment comparable to our enemy, but we are working all the time to have enough to make any aggression a regrettable adventure for the enemy."