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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2007, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Anger at Israel boot camp safety
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Jerusalem

Zikkim training base
Camp accommodation consists of concrete walls and canvas
The basic training camp at Zikkim in southern Israel is where many young conscripts get their first taste of life in the Israeli army.

Though the boot camp is just a kilometre north of the Gaza border, hundreds of raw recruits are sent there for three weeks of boot camp before going off to join non-combat units.

They sleep behind concrete walls, but with canvas roofs, offering only patchy protection from regular rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militant groups.

The sleeping arrangements there were the object of heavy criticism even before a rocket hit the base at about 0130 on Tuesday (2330 GMT), injuring dozens of soldiers, four of them seriously.

One mother was heard on Israeli radio saying that her son had been complaining constantly that Zikkim was being peppered by the crude unguided rockets and he wanted to come home.

Dangerous place

After Tuesday's attack dozens of parents besieged the base demanding their sons and daughters be moved to a safer location.

The initial response by the army has been to ship increased protection, but it is not clear if that will placate angry families.

Events are bound to increase public awareness about the camp, which is usually eclipsed by the nearby town of Sderot, a kilometre from the north-east corner of Gaza, and a frequent target of occasionally deadly rocket fire.

There residents feel trapped, unable to afford to move away from homes they cannot sell. They also complain that the government does not do enough to defend them.

But why did the army continue to send teenage conscripts, probably heading for supply lines and desk jobs for their army service, to what was a clearly dangerous location where the only protection was - as one commentator said - "hoping for the best"?

Some have speculated that it would have looked bad to move them away, when ordinary civilians are probably facing a sterner threat.

There is also the belief that for Israel it is a good strategy to keep large numbers of troops on the Gaza border.

Although the Zikkim trainees were not being trained for front-line duty, they would have been receiving weapons training from day one as proper soldiers.

Desired effect

Although there seem to have been no fatalities, the attack is likely to increase public pressure on Israel's political and military leaders to do more to prevent rocket fire coming out of the Gaza Strip.

The office of Israel's beleaguered Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had convened a meeting of ministers and security chiefs to discuss its reaction.

The new defence minister, former PM and army chief Ehud Barak, has yet to demonstrate his strategy for Gaza, although a robust response might be expected from him.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the strip in 2005 in a unilateral move that was claimed would enhance security, but it appears to have had the opposite effect on places like Sderot and Zikkim on Gaza's frontiers.

Major incursions and air strikes into Gaza have not had the desired effect. Scores of Palestinians have been killed this year, most of them militants but also dozens of civilians.

Many Palestinian analysts argue that Israel's actions increase the anger and instability in Gaza, which has also witnessed serious inter-factional Palestinian fighting since the Israeli pull-out.

Forces loyal to the radical Islamist movement Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted the security forces of the secular nationalist Fatah movement, which has monopolised power in Palestinian politics for decades.

Hamas now exercises undisputed security control in Gaza, and has appeared to make no move to stop rocket fire from its side.

Tuesday's attack was claimed jointly by two groups other than Hamas or Fatah, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad.

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