One man was killed and two women were wounded on Monday night when a rocket fired from Gaza hit a residential building in Ashkelon. One of the female victims was found by rescue services that arrived immediately after the rocket hit, but the man and other woman were found by a city resident about an hour later, after police and firefighters had left the scene.
The police said they had searched all of the apartments in the building several times before leaving and thought the building had been fully evacuated. They said it was only after the injured woman had poked a hand out of the rubble that there was any apparent sign of life there.
One of the two women was critically wounded. The other woman's condition was described as serious. It was the second woman who emergency rescued personnel had not found.
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The building, in the southern part of Ashkelon, which is just north of the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean coast, was hit close to midnight. Emergency rescue forces arrived at the scene shortly afterwards.
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A witness said the critically wounded woman, who is around 60 years old, was found by rescue personnel about 40 minutes after they arrived, but they left without finding the man or other woman.
At about 1 A.M., Shlomi Lankri, who had come to photograph the damage in the building, spotted the man and woman in the rubble. The male victim, a West Bank Palestinian from the Hebron area, was pronounced dead at the scene.
The woman, whose identity has not yet been established, was taken to Barzilai Medical Center in the city. Both were said to be in their forties. Neighbors said they had not known the two.
"I came here when the police had already cleared out of the area," Lankri recounted. "There was no one here. I went to take pictures of the wall, because I work for a company involved in urban renewal. While taking pictures showing how the walls had collapsed, I heard noise. I saw someone moving. I thought it was paper. I pulled the 'paper' and then realized that I was touching a woman's fingers."
Lankri said he and someone else at the scene started digging "and then I saw a man's hand and I kept on going." He then saw that the man was dead, he said.
The man and woman were buried under "a pile of stone and walls," Lankri recalled. "The wall had simply fallen on them." He speculated that if the police had found the man earlier, his life might have been saved.
A woman who lived in an adjacent building, which was damaged in the rocket attack, said: "There was a terrible screw-up here. How did they not find them?"
Firefighters arrived at the scene of the rocket attack quickly and directed their primary attention to a fire that had broken out in an adjoining building after the rocket ignited gas canisters, a police statement said on Tuesday.
At the same time, they began carrying out a sweep of the building where the three victims were ultimately found.
Although the police said that all of the apartments in the building were searched four or five times, the police expect to investigate how the mishap occurred.
"In the course of these searches, an elderly woman was found in one of the locked apartments and taken away in very serious condition for medical treatment after the [rescue] forces broke down the apartment door," police said.
There was no sign of life in the apartment were the man and woman were later found by Lankri, nor any other indication that there were people in the apartment, the police statement said.
"They were under the ruins, and therefore they were only found later after the woman poked her hand out of the rubble a bit." The search of the building was conducted at a time when the structure was in danger of imminent collapse as a result of the burning natural gas, the statement noted.