Grandmother wakes to rockets and children crying as Hamas attacks

ASHKELON, Israel — She was supposed to be celebrating her 75th birthday Saturday. Instead of celebrations, Bracha Yarkoni said she watched as her home in Ashkelon, a coastal city in southern Israel, took a direct hit from a rocket. 

Rocked out of bed by explosions and the cries of her grandchildren, Yarkoni said she was standing in the street when the rocket struck. It was one of a massive barrage fired from the Gaza Strip as Palestinian militants launched a deadly land, air and sea assault inside Israel on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll.  

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Instead, pillars billowing black smoke scarred rose up from the ground after Hamas rockets struck as thinner white trails from Israeli air defense missiles crisscrossed the sky.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” Yarkoni told NBC News shortly afterward. “Where are the soldiers? Where are the police?”

“God help us,” she said.

Across Israel’s Route 3, a highway 15 miles north of Gaza, police armed with assault rifles fanned out across roads, checking cars for gunmen trying to pass further into the country. Elsewhere, the highways were almost entirely empty except for emergency vehicles.

As his country reeled, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel was “in a war.” Promising the “enemy will pay a price it has never known before,” in a recorded video address, he said he had ordered an “extensive reserve mobilization.”

But hours after the attacks, gun battles could still be heard inside several Israeli communities.

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