SDEROT, Israel (AP) – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired three rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, disrupting the first day of school in this frequently targeted border town.
The attack set off air-raid sirens in Sderot, but the rockets landed in open areas outside town, the army said. There were no reports of damage or injuries. Still, rocket fire raised the prospect of renewed Israeli military activity in Gaza.
Wary parents in Sderot had threatened not to send their children to school, but lifted the strike threat after being promised the schools were properly protected and shelters upgraded.
“The situation is hard but we try to be OK and encourage the kids,” said Ifat Sabag, a mother in this working class town of 22,000 residents. “It is better … to begin the year like everyone instead of staying home.”
Since 2001, Sderot has been pummeled by thousands of homemade rockets launched from Gaza. In August alone, some 300 rockets were fired at the area, the army said, and on Saturday night, a rocket landed near an abandoned school.
The attacks have killed seven Sderot residents, wounded dozens and made life unbearable for people woken by air-raid sirens on a nearly daily basis. The government has been under pressure to provide greater fortification to structures in the city, particularly schools.
Ahead of the school year, the army last week announced it had a surplus of reinforced classrooms. It said an additional 200 classroom in adjacent towns were also available if needed.
To further calm jittery residents, the army dispatched more than 200 soldiers to accompany the students to school on Sunday and instruct them on emergency procedures. “We are determined to open the year here in Sderot and protect the kids even though we understand that there is still a threat and we cannot neglect it,” said Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who toured Sderot’s schools Sunday. He called the rocket threat a “central” issue. The army said three rockets were fired toward Sderot on Sunday. It was not immediately clear where the projectiles landed, it said.
The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility. Alon Davidi, a Sderot resident taking his children to school, said the government had to protect the people of Sderot by rooting out the threat across the border. “The solution is not in Sderot. The solution is Gaza. The terrorists is in Gaza,” he said.
The Israeli army frequently launches airstrikes and brief ground incursions into Gaza to halt the rocket fire, but the crude weapons, which have no navigation systems and reach Israel in a matter of seconds, continue to baffle the high-tech military.
Early Sunday, the army said it carried out an airstrike on two rocket launchers in northern Gaza. Palestinian officials said there were no casualties.
Across Israel, 1.5 million children headed to school for the start of the new school year, including some 134,500 first graders starting their studies. Threats of a teacher’s strike, commonplace in Israel before each school year, were lifted last week allowing the school year to begin as scheduled.
Palestinian schools in the West Bank also opened on Sunday, after a one-day strike. Schools in Gaza opened on Saturday.