Hundreds of Israelis left their homes along the border with the Gaza Strip on Monday, reflecting growing frustration over the war with Hamas and the Palestinian mortar fire raining down on their communities. Tens of thousands of Israelis have fled the area in nearly two months of fighting, which has turned the communities into virtual ghost towns.
With the school year fast approaching, the government began offering assistance to residents Monday in the first large-scale voluntary evacuation in nearly eight weeks of fighting.
Officials estimate that 70 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the farming communities along the Gaza border have left over the course of the fighting, including hundreds Monday. Some went to stay with relatives and friends, while others are staying at hostels or were taken in by strangers who want to help fellow Israelis.
Fields that once yielded vegetables and flowers are barren and pockmarked by Palestinian mortar shells. Streets are empty and most homes eerily silent.
The fighting has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials, leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
The death toll on the Israeli side has been much lower, largely because of Israel’s network of air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile-defense system.
Yet Israel’s defenses have been largely ineffective against short-range mortar fire — a deficiency underscored when a 4-year-old boy was killed Friday by a Palestinian mortar shell.
“The community is very close to the border, and we have almost no warning of incoming fire,” said Elazar Ashtivkar, a 30-year-old father of four who left Nahal Oz, the scene of the deadly attack, several weeks ago with his family.