Defense minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz decided Wednesday, Oct. 24, that the heavy Palestinian missile assault from the Gaza Strip, which escalated to 60 rockets on Israeli civilian locations, in a few hours, must be stopped. The bulk of the personnel taking part in the joint Israeli-US war game Austere Challenge 12 and the Turning Point 6 home front exercise were ordered to pull out, together with anti-missile interceptors and other resources, and redeploy in southern Israel across from the Gaza Strip.
Following this decision, another 13 rockets were fired at Ashkelon early Wednesday afternoon.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the two exercises were effectively halted – “reduced” according to the official communiqué – after a wide range of towns and villages within range of the Gaza Strip, including Ashkelon, took a heavy beating from round after round of rockets, including Grads.
Two Thais working in the fields of the Eshkol district were flown to hospital in critical condition. Several properties were seriously damaged and local schools and work places remained closed.
The concentrated assault on Ashkelon, against which 7 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome batteries, is taken by Israel’s top commanders as the opening shot of a major Hamas offensive, with worse to come.
Our sources report that officials in Washington and Jerusalem are in tense discussions over what to do with the 1,000 US troops, the American Patriots and the US warship standing by with an Aegis anti-missile battery, assigned to the three-week joint exercise which started Sunday.