Israeli Cities Locked Down After Air Strikes on Gaza Strip

Residents of Israeli cities surrounding the Gaza Strip found themselves living in a closed military zone on Saturday as the country’s Home Front Command issued orders effectively keeping people in their homes and shelters due to the constant threat of falling Palestinian rockets.

By Joshua Runyan and Tamar Runyan for www.chabad.org

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The remains of an exploded rocket sit inside a restaurant in northern Israel.

Residents of Israeli cities surrounding the Gaza Strip found themselves living in a closed military zone on Saturday as the country’s Home Front Command issued orders effectively keeping people in their homes and shelters due to the constant threat of falling Palestinian rockets.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries throughout Israel spent the evening checking up on residents and planning ways to encourage the besieged citizens. As rockets fired by terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip rained down across the western Negev, a Chabad parade of menorah-topped cars in the country’s midsection drew many scores of drivers, significantly more than in previous years.

“So many people are parading their menorahs because of the war,” said Rabbi Menachem Kutner, director of Chabad’s Terror Victims Project. “Although we decided ahead of time to have the parade tonight, more people joined as a way to give strength to the country.”

On Wednesday, Kutner found himself in Sderot, a small city just kilometers from Gaza that has borne the brunt of Palestinian rocket barrages. Kutner joined local Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Ze’ev Pizem in throwing a Chanukah party for more than 100 local residents, a gathering that under the new military orders would be forbidden until further notice.

“People are so scared there,” said Kutner. “It was amazing that everyone came out.”

At the party, Chanan Yakobov, whose father was killed in a rocket attack in 2006, lit the menorah.

“No one knows what will happen in the coming days,” said Kutner. “But let’s remember that people there have been living with rockets for eight years.”

jOfo2565652.jpgNews reports in Israel indicated that a massive ground operation could be in the works after air strikes on Saturday destroyed Hamas police stations and security targets. While people in other parts of the country seemed to carry on unaffected by the crisis, an increased police presence could be seen at sensitive locations, such as the Jerusalem municipal headquarters.

More than 80 rockets and mortar shells struck areas throughout the western Negev, The Jerusalem Postreported. In Netivot, a 58-year-old man was killed when his house was hit by a rocket. In the coastal town of Ashkelon, at least 10 rocket strikes were reported, with one hitting an apartment building. A rocket also struck the city of Kiryat Gat, a first since Hamas took control of Gaza.

According to orders posted on the Web site of the Home Front Command, residents who live within a 10-kilometer radius of Gaza may not leave their homes. Citizens of towns located between 10 and 15 kilometers from the border have to be within a 15-second distance of a secure room or bomb shelter at all times. Between 15 and 20 kilometers from the border, residents must be able to reach a secure room within 30 seconds, while those in cities between 20 and 30 kilometers from Gaza – including Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi – have 45 seconds to reach a secure location.

Said Kutner: “People are under a lot of pressure.”