On April 16, 2001, Gaza terrorists fired the first rocket at southern Israel, aiming for the town of Sderot. On the Sabbath, ten years will have passed since that day. Rocket fire remains a serious concern in southern towns, which were hit by a barrage of rockets and mortar shells as recently as last week.
“At that time, everyone was sure it was a one-time event, a red line that nobody would think to cross again,” former Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said this week in an interview with the Maariv/Nrg. “Nobody imagined ten years of missile terrorism.”
Terrorists began with short-range rockets produced in Gaza, known as “Kassams.” In the first years, rockets hit with no warning. Even after the installation of the “Color Red” rocket warning system, residents had at most 15 seconds to run for shelter, and often had significantly less time.
Several people were killed by the rockets in Sderot alone, among them four children. Others were badly wounded, including an eight-year-old boy who lost a leg.
Prior to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the expulsion of Jews from the area, many rocket attacks targeted Jewish communities in Gush Katif. The Gaza belt was hit by rockets more than 280 times in 2004, and 170 times in 2005, but did not face daily attacks.
Following the expulsion, however, terrorists began to strike far more frequently, hitting the region with 946 rockets in 2006, and 2,048 in 2008. After the Hamas takeover of 2007, when United Nations observers fled the border, Hamas managed to smuggle in more advanced medium-range rockets and expand its attacks beyond Sderot and the Gaza belt. Cities such as Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod and Ofakim all fell victim to rockets as well.
The “Cast Lead” counterterror operation, in which Israel destroyed much of Hamas’ infrastructure and weapons supplies, and killed an estimated 700 Hamas terrorists, led to a temporary reprieve. However, Hamas recently went on the offensive again, firing Grad rockets on Netivot, Ofakim, Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon.
“In retrospect, that [first] Kassam was a clear sign that Hamas was going to look for a fight with Israel,” former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a resident of Sderot, told Maariv. “In the beginning, we did not treat the Kassam as something that could pose a threat or a danger. We treated it as an attempt by the Palestinians to threaten us, nothing more.”