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Rockets Continue to Pound Israel, Despite Purported Cease-Fire

By the Jerusalem Post,,, Israel Hayom & VOA News Despite talks of a cease-fire by 11 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT), rockets continued to be shot into Israel from Gaza. At approximately midnight, a rocket barrage was shot into the Eshkol Regional Council and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, where a spokeswoman for the cluster of communities said power was cut due to the attacks. Multiple rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Monday evening, an AFP journalist said, as fears of a fresh conflict heightened. Around 10 rockets were fired in short order from northern Gaza towards Israel. Sirens were sounding in multiple places in southern Israel close to the border, the Israeli army said. The IDF later confirmed that at least 20 rockets were fired from Gaza, including one that damaged a house in Sderot. No injuries were reported. Many residents reportedly went to sleep in bomb shelters, as communities in the Gaza belt region have 15 seconds from the time the "tzeva adom" or "code red" warning siren is sounded until rocket impact. In most cases, rockets are shot down in mid-air by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which has been deployed in the south of the country. The latest wave of rockets caused no injuries or property damage, said Adi Meiri, spokeswoman for Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. School has been canceled for Tuesday in the city of Ashkelon, and the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, areas that have been hit by rockets in past flare-ups, the Ministry of Education announced following recommendations from the Home Front Command. Residents will be updated in the morning if the situation continues. The first rocket to be fired at Israel happened around 5:24 a.m. on Monday. Hamas launched a rocket that flew toward the center of the country, slamming into a private home in Moshav Mishneret in the Sharon region. Seven people were injured, and four dogs were killed. The Hamas-manufactured rocket was fired from the area around Rafah in southern Gaza and traveled 120 km. (75 miles) northeast. Luck and miracles saved seven members of the Wolf family from almost certain death when a rocket from Gaza landed in their home. "I nearly lost my family," said Robert Wolf, as he stood outside the shell of his house, on a tree-lined street with single family homes, located in the middle of the country close to Kfar Saba. "If we had not gotten to the bomb shelter in time, I would now be burying all my family," he said. The blown-out red roof tile, the fallen beams, the walls reduced to rubble, all bore testament to the likelihood that the nightmare scenario he described could have happened. Robert listed on his fingers the lives that had been saved: "that is two grandchildren, one five months old, one two years old. That would be my third child, with his wife, my wife, myself and my youngest daughter. They would all have been dead if we didn't do what we had been supposed to do." Both Wolf and his wife immigrated to Israel from Great Britain some 30 years ago. Robert's son Daniel explained to reporters the sudden, surprising dash to safety that the family had made that morning to the safe room in their home, mere seconds after waking up. It was narrative peppered with the words luck and miracle. On a normal morning, Daniel would have been asleep in his bed with his wife, Yael. But the night before, he had fallen asleep on the sofa as he scanned his phone and was still there when the warning siren rang out in the moshav. Something about the acoustics of that room allowed him to hear the siren when no one else in the house did. Daniel immediately raced to four bedrooms; his wife's, his parents and those of his daughters Mia and Tamara. He held both of the girls in his arms as he and his wife raced to the small reinforced room designed to protect them from rocket attacks. They left the door of the safe room open for his mother, Susan, who never made it further than the kitchen and therefore suffered the most injuries. Robert left the house to head to his daughter's separate apartment unit, which was attached to the house, to make sure she had woken up. They were in the yard on their way to the safe room in the main part of the house, when the rocket hit. One moment the house was there; the next moment it was gone, he said. In the safe room, Daniel said he knew immediately that the house had been hit. The air turned black with dust and his ears buzzed, he said. "I heard screaming, so I knew something bad happened. Luckily we were OK. It was a miracle." The family was evacuated to Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, where four of its members were treated for light injuries and released. Yael and the younger daughter Tamara remained in the hospital overnight for observation. Susan was transferred to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, where she is in moderate condition. A 12-year-old girl who lives nearby also remained in the hospital for injuries she sustained to her foot. Robert was clear that what saved his family was their decision to head to the bomb shelter, and not fancy slogans by politicians about security. "With all the games of politicians and all of them blowing out their chests… They are all going to save us. This is the real price, and I just paid it," Robert said. The force of the blast was so great that it damaged other homes on the street, including that of the Gittel family, which lives across the street from the Wolfs. They never made it to the safe room before the blast. Ron and his wife, Racheli, were woken by the siren as they slept in their bedroom on the first floor of their home. "We don't live in the periphery, so we didn't exactly race to the safe room. We took a few steps; we hadn't even left the bedroom when we heard a loud explosion. The windows burst. The window boxes flew," he recalled as he sat on the sofa in his living room. "I thought it had fallen in the yard," Gittel said. The situation immediately became stressful, and they feared a second missile. They raced into their son Guy's bedroom next door, yelling at him, "Wake up, wake up!" Their 10-year-old son had not stirred from the noise. "He is a heavy sleeper; a tank could roll over him and he wouldn't notice," Ron said, almost with a laugh – but not really. They roused him, then raced one short flight into the basement where their daughter Emmy, 13, slept and entered their safe room. They waited 10 minutes before venturing out to the smell of gas and smoke. One of the shards from the missile had cut the gas line. But along with the many miracles that morning, an explosion did not follow. Although they live in the center of the country, it is not the first time that a Gaza missile has hit their community, just the first time it has caused damage. During the 2014 Gaza war, a missile launched from Gaza fell harmlessly in a field nearby. To put on a face of normality for the children, they sent them to school, just as if it was any other morning. But, they stayed home to clean up the damage, and in the process, also opened their home and their yard to reporters. At times, Ron also wandered out into the street, filled with reporters, soldiers and police cars. One bombed out the car – with its windows shattered and a blown off bumper that had fallen onto the lawn of Wolf's home – sat across the street. In front of them is the question of whether to go to sleep in their bedrooms as normal or to sleep for a night or two in the safe room. "It was very frightening," Ron said. But somehow, in spite of the attack, he still feels calm and safe in his room. Still, he said, "It was a very close call. The surprise rocket attack has rattled the country and cast a shadow over the upcoming Eurovision competition in Tel Aviv. The attack marked the second time in less than two weeks that deadly rockets were fired toward central Israel. And with 50 days until the Eurovision kicks off, concerns about an escalation –or the possibility of a one-off attack – during the competition are climbing. A spokeswoman for KAN told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that, "right now everything is quiet... not much has happened." She said that the public broadcaster has no specific plan in place for dealing with rockets during the Eurovision. It's hard to blame KAN for not having a plan. Monday's rocket attack proved, once again, that even outside of escalations and full-out wars with Gaza, missiles could come at any time, with no warning or expectation. And even if, as Hamas claims, the rocket was fired by mistake, it does not affect its potential damage. Mistakes kill. Reached for comment on Monday, officials at the European Broadcasting Union told the Post they are monitoring the situation in Israel. "Safety and security are always of paramount importance for the EBU," it said in an emailed statement. "We continue to work alongside KAN and the appropriate Israeli authorities to safeguard the well-being of everyone preparing for and attending the Eurovision Song Contest in May. We will continue to closely monitor the current situation in Israel." The EBU declined to answer if it has a contingency plan in place. In the event of a full-blown war, moving the competition to a new location would be all but impossible at the last minute. Since it premiered 63 years ago in 1956, the Eurovision has never skipped a year. The full contest – with 40 visiting delegations, hundreds of journalists and thousands of tourists – doesn't kick off until May. But for the past few weeks – and for several weeks to come – the 40 contestants have been visiting Israel for several days to film their "postcard" clips that air during the competition. At the time of the rocket strike Monday morning, Michael Rice, the singer from Britain; Keiino, the band from Norway; and D-Moll, the group from Montenegro, were all in Israel. Macedonia's representative, Tamara Todevska, set out for Israel several hours after the rocket attack and landed Monday. On Tuesday the Portuguese contestant, Conan Osiris, is supposed to arrive, and Thursday should see the arrival of Russia's Sergey Lazarev. Several delegations were also in Israel during the rocket siren that sounded in Tel Aviv earlier this month. According to social media posts from the visiting contestants, things are business as usual. In a video message, the members of Keiino said: "we can't wait to be back here in May." They also posted a photo of themselves "Sightseeing in Tel Aviv after interviews" on Monday evening. Members of D-Moll posted images from both filming and touring around Israel. And Todevska posted on Twitter from the airport: "Shalom Israel. I am not a morning person but I am really looking forward to my first trip to Israel to record my Eurovision postcard. Love you all." No matter the intense security preparations, Israeli officials cannot promise the EBU that rockets won't be fired at Israel during the Eurovision. KAN cannot ensure the contestants from around the world that they won't be targeted by Hamas missiles. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to return to Israel early Tuesday morning, skipping his scheduled speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. Netanyahu had been scheduled to have dinner at the White House Tuesday and also give an address to AIPAC, a major U.S. lobbying group for the Jewish state. But the dinner and speech were canceled so Netanyahu can return home as Israel's defense force responds to Monday's rocket attack northeast of Tel Aviv. The festive atmosphere of the second day of the AIPAC Policy Conference was overshadowed by news of the rocket attack. At the long lines for security checks outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, participants from around the worlds were all regularly checking their cellphone for updates. Maj.-Gen. (res) Amos Gilad told The Jerusalem Post that we are already in a new "round of violence." According to reports from the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian brokered ceasefire was reached Monday evening but at about 10:30, the Israeli Navy fired at targets at the Khan Yunis Port in Gaza and IAF aircraft struck tunnels just East of Gaza City. Shortly afterward, Code Red sirens could be heard in the Gaza vicinity communities. Earlier, shortly after the Israeli Air Force destroyed the offices of Hamas leader Ismail Haniye Monday evening, a heavy barrage of rockets was fired from the territory into southern Israel. A home in Sderot suffered a direct hit but the rocket failed to explode, and the homeowner was unharmed and in the shelter. Ahead of the Israeli airstrikes, Hamas' leadership went into hiding. The joint operations control center for Gaza militants announced that in response to attacks against a target in Gaza, they fired a barrage at targets in Sderot and Netivot and warned that if Israel continues, the firing range will be expanded. The IDF made prior preparations throughout the day and deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries throughout the vicinity. Public bomb shelters were opened in most major cities, and civil defense authorities canceled sports events and public transportation in southern Israel. "Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this," Netanyahu declared during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump. "Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression," he said. "We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state." In Beirut, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizbullah said its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, met Monday with a Hamas delegation led by top official Saleh Arouri. They discussed the Gaza situation and "Israeli aggression." Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since seizing control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago. An Israel-Egyptian blockade imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50%. Monday's attack came 10 days after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel's densely populated commercial capital of Tel Aviv, and the Israeli military struck back. Gaza's Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidentally and the fighting quickly subsided. Netanyahu came under heavy criticism from allies and opponents for what they say has been an ineffective policy containing Gaza militants. He has conducted indirect cease-fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in Gaza. "The reality in which Hamas turned Israel into a hostage is unprecedented and unfathomable," his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, wrote on Twitter on Monday. Gantz is a former military chief who led the army during the last Gaza war in 2014. Netanyahu also came under attack from his nationalistic allies. "Israel's deterrence has collapsed, and it has to be said in all honesty Netanyahu has failed against Hamas," said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamin HeHadash faction in Netanyahu's coalition. Benny Gantz, who is posing a stiff challenge to Netanyahu in the upcoming elections, said he would not hesitate to use force on Iran to contain the regional rival. In a speech to AIPAC, Gantz also spelled out further his views on peace prospects with the Palestinians, insisting that Israel's military will always control security in the West Bank. The centrist former military chief showed no daylight with Netanyahu on peace and security matters – but won standing ovations from the American Jewish audience by raising domestic issues, including promising more inclusiveness at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site. Citing his mother's experience as a Holocaust survivor and his son's service in the military, Gantz said that "strength and moral power come together. That is why I say from this stage to the Iranian regime -- never again. We will not allow you to establish yourself in Syria; we will not allow you to develop nuclear weapons. On my watch, you will not become a regional power, and I will not hesitate to use force if and when needed," he said.

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