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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Uncertainty clouds Israeli lives
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Herzliya

Having fled her home in the city of Haifa an hour after the first Hezbollah rocket hit the city, Alma Herbst says she now has an emergency bag packed and her passport to hand.

Alma Herbst
Alma Herbst and her family are among many to flee Haifa

The 37-year-old business consultant has spent the last three weeks with her husband and their two young children staying at her brother-in-law's apartment in the town of Herzliya, close to Tel Aviv.

More than 2,100 rockets fired by Hezbollah have landed in northern Israel since Mrs Herbst and her family fled the area.

Twenty civilians have been killed by the rockets and hundreds of others injured.

But even in the relative safety of Herzliya - no Hezbollah rockets have hit this town - Mrs Herbst remains anxious.

"If Haifa could happen, what else could happen? I've been living with uncertainty for the last three weeks," she says, sitting in the open-planned kitchen of the eighth floor apartment with views of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

"If something happens here we will have to go to Jerusalem. But if something really big happens then I'm going to leave the country with my children."

Instant decision

Since the beginning of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, which started after Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid and captured two Israeli soldiers, up to a million Israelis in the north of the country have been directly affected by the Hezbollah rockets, according to the Israeli police.

Many of these citizens are seeking refuge in bunkers when the sirens sound, signalling an imminent rocket attack.

It will be only after a few weeks that the rockets have not fallen that I will feel safer
Alma Herbst

But others like Ms Herbst and her family have fled the north of Israel all together.

In Haifa, a city of 300,000, over half the population have left. Some are staying with family or friends, others are in hotels.

Nursing a stripy black and white cup, Mrs Herbst says that she made an instant decision after hearing a convoy of ambulances with their sirens wailing racing to the scene of the first rocket attack.

"There was no way that I was going to let my two children suffer hearing the rockets land and the sirens," she says, as her seven-year-old daughter Inbar hovers quietly in the background watching the nanny as she fries meatballs in a pan.

"I also didn't want them to see my stress, because I know what is happening and they don't."

Hopes of return

Normally, Mrs Herbst drops her daughter off at summer camp each morning before heading into work at a start-up company, followed by a midday trip to the gym.

Police investigate at the site of a rocket attack by Hezbollah guerrillas at the train station in Haifa on 16 July
Mrs Herbst's husband was in Haifa when Hezbollah rockets struck

That has all changed in the last three weeks. Now, Mrs Herbst and her family are living with her brother-in-law, his wife, Anat, and their three-year-old daughter.

In the kitchen, Alma and Anat joke about how they have had to change their routines.

"Just as much as they don't have a home, we don't have a home," says Anat, with a laugh.

"We use one kind of detergent for the washing and they use another kind. We like different foods. You have to learn to be more considerate to other people."

While Alma insists she is relaxed, her mind rarely wanders from the fear of bombs and explosions.

Twice within the last three weeks, there have been warnings of possible suicide bombings close to their current home in Herzliya.

Ms Herbst's husband, Elan, a manager at Microsoft, returned to Haifa on the train to pick up belongings from their house. The same day a train garage in the city was struck by Hezbollah rocket that killed eight workers.

Mrs Herbst says that she hopes that her family will be able to return to Haifa in the next two weeks. But the anxiety and uncertainty, she says, will not leave her.

"Even when the Israeli Prime Minister says it's safe to return, I will still be anxious." she says. "It will be only after a few weeks that the rockets have not fallen that I will feel safer."






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