Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Sunday morning assisted in the voluntary evacuation of the western Negev city of Sderot ahead of an expected ground offensive into the Gaza Strip.
Sderot, a community of 30,000 barely half a mile from the Gaza Strip, is the first Israeli city to face state-aided evacuation.
The Hamas terrorist group killed at least 1,400 Israelis and wounded more than 3,500 in a massive offensive launched from Gaza on Oct. 7, which included firing more than 6,600 rockets at the Jewish state. Sderot was one of many Israeli communities overrun by terrorists.
In the week that followed, the city reported 75 direct rocket hits, and the IDF fears it will be targeted again in retaliation for the impending ground operation. Israelis in Sderot have fewer than 15 seconds to seek shelter from the moment the air-raid siren sounds.
The evacuation of Sderot brings the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to the conflict in Israel to at least 50,000.
About two-thirds of the city’s residents were already bused to hotels or headed to relatives across Israel in the aftermath of the bloody weekend, Deputy Mayor Elad Kalimi told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
Most of the remaining residents will be evacuated on Sunday, while around 10% are expected to stay in the city. Residents are being temporarily relocated to hotels in Eilat and Jerusalem, and possibly also to Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea area.
The southern part of Ashkelon, a city just north of Gaza that is home to 149,000 residents, is also included in the government’s possible evacuation plans.
As the evacuation got underway, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon led foreign ambassadors on a tour through Sderot. The delegation was forced to run for cover as terrorists in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at Israel’s south.
One rocket hit a home in Sderot, causing a fire, the municipality said.