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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Gaza militants cook up deadly mix
By Matthew Price
BBC News, Gaza

Since the start of the year, Palestinian militants have fired hundreds of home-made rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, killing two Israeli civilians.

Gaza militants build a rocket
Al Aqsa militants pack explosives into a home-made rocket shell

The Israeli army has hit back hard, firing some 6,000 shells into Gaza.

Five Palestinian civilians have been killed in these attacks.

But neither side shows any sign of giving up.

Inside a makeshift kitchen with whitewashed walls, a girl's bike with stabilisers and pink trim lies on the floor.

In the room next door, children's voices can be heard chattering.

Overhead, the roof is made corrugated iron - protection from both the fierce sunlight and from the Israeli drones which would love to look down and see what I can see.

What I can see are three masked men - Gaza's rocket makers.

They are members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of the Fatah party, and avowed rivals of the radical Hamas movement which currently runs the Palestinian Authority.

The eyes of the chief rocket maker look young, but his words are strong.

"The Israelis kill our children," he says. "So we want to kill their civilians."

'Cookery class'

On the white plastic garden table in front of him lies a metal tube with fins, about a metre (three foot) long, maybe 15 centimetres in diameter.

There is also a pointed piece of metal shaped like an artillery warhead. This is where the explosives are held.

For about half an hour they mix what they say are household chemicals.

Using a coffee grinder, they remove the lumps from the powder.

Israeli troops in a tank
The Israeli army insists it is only acting in self-defence

They pour in a little water from a plastic soft drink bottle then stir it. The whole thing looks like a cookery class.

Then they heat it. As the naked flame of a gas burner sparks into life, I step back.

"It's safe, don't worry," the rocket maker insists calmly.

One of the men, a big fellow with 1970s-style sunglasses, squeezes back into the room, and offers us orange squash in disposable plastic cups.

DIY rockets

The mixture, the rocket propellant, is then poured into the long tube. While it sets, explosives are pushed into the warhead, which is then screwed onto the rocket.

Finally, they bring out a can of black spray paint, and add a lick of colour. This is do-it-yourself rocket making.

They shell our houses, so we will shell theirs
Militant rocket maker

They make 10 of these a day. They are crude, primitive, and designed to kill.

I ask them why they are doing this.

"To retaliate against Israeli aggression. To create a balance of fear. They shell our houses, so we will shell theirs."

But these rockets are hardly a match for one of the world's most sophisticated armies.

"We have to do something," comes the reply.

Although crudely made, these rockets can be deadly. This year, these makeshift projectiles have killed two Israelis, the army says.

Although Hamas is not behind the rocket fire, Israel says the radical group is doing nothing to stop the militants who are.

So the army has set out to do the job itself, by shelling open areas from which the rockets are fired.

I am worried about the children - they could be hit at any moment
Villager Nasser Abu Khousa

We went for a look. Within minutes, the first artillery shell whistled over our heads.

Everyone ducked instinctively, as if that could help. It landed a kilometre or so away, with a loud bang.

Within half an hour, I counted 30 shells exploding, many of them close to civilian housing.

Living dangerously

Palestinian doctors say five civilians have been killed by Israeli shells in the last few weeks.

In the late afternoon, we joined Nasser Abu Khousa's children as they stood on the flat roof of their apartment block, pointing out the explosions.

Five hit near the beach, close to the greenhouses. Another five landed in the open fields.

The sand flies up, and a second or so later, the sound reaches you.

After dinner it started again.

An hour later, Nasser Abu Khousa and I were chatting on the street when we felt the latest explosion.

And the shells fell, on and off, into the night.

Just after dawn, Abu Khousa sent 10-year-old Tamir to school.

"I'm worried about my son, and all the children," he told me. "They could be hit at any moment."

Intolerable situation

Leaving Gaza, we went to the hills overlooking this tiny strip of land, to meet the Israeli army.

We can't have a situation where people living here are under rocket fire
Captain Jacob Dallal
Israeli army spokesman

Army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal said Israel was responding to Palestinian fire.

But was it acceptable for one of the world's most sophisticated armies to be shelling areas where civilians live, putting lives at risk?

"We can't have a situation where people living in this village here, or that city over there, are under rocket fire," he said. "And this is a border. The border has to be quiet."

For now, neither side is backing down.

The rocket makers say they are fighting Israel's occupation of their lands. Israel says it has no other option but to stop the rockets being fired at its people.

And as usual, it is the civilians on both sides who suffer.

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy




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