Fifty-one Rockets Land in Gaza-area Communities

"A great miracle" was what people yesterday in Ashkelon were calling the fact that a Grad rocket landed in a cemetery just after a funeral had ended. "There were seven funerals here today, and I'm telling you it was just luck that something terrible didn't happen here," the director of the Hevra Kadisha burial society, Eli Yifrah, said as he stood next to a gravestone shattered by the rocket, which landed just after 3 P.M.

A total of 51 rockets hit yesterday in southern Israel: 10 landed in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and the Sha'ar Hanegev region; five Grad rockets were fired at Be'er Sheva and landed in open areas; more than 10 rockets landed in the Eshkol region, one of which caused damage to a building near a community; eight Grad rockets were fired at the town of Netivot, landing in open areas outside the town. Rockets fired at Ofakim also landed in open areas.

Schools will remain closed tomorrow in Be'er Sheva, Netivot, Ofakim, Sha'ar Hanegev, Sderot, Ashkelon and the Merhavim region. Sapir College and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will also not be holding classes.

One of the projectiles slammed into the upper floor of an eight-story apartment building in Ashdod, causing severe structural damage and sending parts of the building flying in all directions, as far as 20 meters from the strike site.

The building's 70 residents were immediately evacuated by the Home Front Command. Most spent the night in local hotels after the building was condemned because of the danger of collapse.

At about 11 A.M. yesterday, a rocket struck an open area in Ashkelon.

Three people were slightly injured in rocket attacks in Ashkelon, and eight were treated for shock at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center.

Ashkelon's mayor, Benny Vaknin, who came to the cemetery after the rocket struck, said that in light of the situation, reinforced structures would have to be placed at the cemetery where people could take shelter if necessary.

He asked that as few mourners as possible attend funerals or memorial services, because of the risk.

Vaknin and the head of the Home Front Command's southern district, Col. Eitan Yitzhak, held a press conference yesterday in which they warned residents not to go outside on Saturday, and for those who wished to attend synagogue do so only where there are protected spaces.

Many business owners decided not to open their shops yesterday. "I think I might stay home for a little while until things calm down. In any case there won't be customers," one shopkeeper said.

Since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, 351 Grad and Qassam rockets have been fired at Israel, and 41 mortars.

In the present conflict, the towns of Ofakim, Be'er Sheva, Ashdod, Omer and Rahat have come within rocket range for the first time.