In the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, shell-shocked residents were assessing the damage Wednesday after a rocket shattered their district’s leafy calm for the first time in its history.
Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 1,000 rockets towards Israel since Monday evening, according to the Israeli army.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the coastal territory, says it fired hundreds towards Israel’s commercial capital and tourist hub Tel Aviv on Tuesday night in response to Israeli air strikes on Gaza.
Many were blown out of the sky by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
“At around 8:45 pm the alarms went off and I heard loud booms, very close, one after another,” said Givatayim resident Galit Bialobopolo, 50.
“I went out to the stairwell and immediately called my daughter who had gone for a run.” A rocket had slammed into the building opposite their home, causing a blast that could be felt inside Bialobopolo’s appartment.
“All my windows were broken and all the walls are cracked,” she said, still visibly in shock.
The balcony of the building that was hit was a mess of twisted metal, smashed cement blocks and an air-conditioning unit that had fallen on the rubble.
Municipality spokesman Adi Sagi said six people had been lightly wounded when the rocket hit the quiet, green neighbourhood.
Tel Aviv, 70 kilometres (40 miles) from Gaza City, had been largely spared the brunt of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the territory, under Israeli blockade for 15 years.
Israel’s southern cities have been less fortunate, although many rockets are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
But in Givatayim on Wednesday, Omer, 27, was examining shards of smashed glass in the street and the damaged facade of the appartments nearby.
“I’m afraid of the next few days,” he said.
– ‘Traumatzing’ –
When the sirens went off, Omer had taken a quick look around his building with his flatmate to make sure everybody was okay before heading for safety.
“There’s an old woman who lives alone, we took her into the shelter,” he said.
“We heard children and mothers crying. It’s traumatising, it hasn’t sunk in yet.” On Tuesday evening, after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-storey building in Gaza where senior Hamas officials had offices, the Islamist movement threatened to hit Israel hard.
It soon sent a volley of 130 rockets whizzing towards Tel Aviv.
The worst wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years has so far seen at least 53 people including 14 children killed in Gaza, along with six on the Israeli side, according to authorities on both sides.
The rocket fire from Gaza also forced Israeli authorities to briefly close Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, the country’s main gateway to the world.
But the rockets have not shaken Shai Amir, who remembers Iraq firing missiles on Tel Aviv during the Gulf war.
“We had gas masks,” said the 46-year-old, who was a child at a kibbutz in central Israel at the time.
This time around, “I am not particularly worried,” he said.
“Of course we need to be careful and enter a protected space in time. This is our reality and I will continue life as usual as much as possible.” He said there was no other option than to open political negotiations with Hamas.
“Both the people in Gaza and the people here deserve to live in peace and it is the responsibility of the governments,” he said.