A Grad rocket smashed into a busy shopping mall in the coastal city of Ashkelon at 6 pm, burying many shoppers under the rubble. 90 people were wounded, three of them seriously.

 Grad rocket strikes crowded Ashkelon mall


The aftermath at the Ashkelon mall, after being struck by a Grad missile launched by Hamas from Gaza (Photo: Edi Israel)

An Iranian-made Grad rocket launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip hit a busy shopping mall in central Ashkelon (Wednesday, 14 May 2008). The attack occurred at approximately 6 pm Israel time.

A total of 90 people were wounded, many of them children. Three were wounded seriously, including a mother and her two-year-old daughter who were in the medical clinic at the mall at the time of the attack. Three additional people were injured moderately and the rest slightly. The rocket ripped through the roof of the mall, causing extensive damage and burying many shoppers under piles of rubble.

MDA paramedics reached the scene seconds after the mall was hit, and struggled to extract shoppers buried under the rubble. Ambulances rushed the wounded to nearby Barzilai Hospital, which was itself attacked about two months ago. An additional 62 people were treated for shock at the scene.

Two Palestinian terror groups, the Jabril Front and the Popular Resistance Committees, have claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred while US President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert were meeting in Jerusalem. Later that evening, in his address at the Presidential Conference, PM Olmert mentioned "the dangers, the fears that so many Israelis have to face living in the State of Israel, in the south part of our country." Then he declared, "What happened today is entirely intolerable and unacceptable. The Government of Israel is committed to stop it, and we will take the necessary steps so that this will stop."

The rocket which hit the mall was a standard 122mm Grad rod of the type found in Hamas’s possession and regularly fired at Ashkelon (there have been over 30 identified Grad rocket hits in Ashkelon over the past two months). Even if other terrorist organizations claimed responsibility the attack. In any case, Hamas praised the attack, which served its objectives.

The rocket is believed to have been manufactured in Iran. In view of the Grad’s extended range, the large quantity of explosives in its warhead (18 kg , almost 40 lbs), and its fragmentation effect upon hitting, it causes far more damage than the rockets manufactured in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Ashkelon has a population of over 120,000, and its buildings are more congested than those of Sderot and the other western Negev population centers, which increases the rocket’s potential for inflicting casualties and property damage.

In the recent escalation of deadly rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at civilian population centers in southern Israel, 70-year-old Shuli Katz was killed on Monday in Moshav Yesha, and Jimmy Kedoshim was killed last Friday outside his home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza.