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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 22:46 GMT
Playing cat and mouse with Gaza rockets
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Sderot

Hava Gad told her 16-year-old daughter not to attend Sapir College on Thursday, so Shay stayed at home.

Residents of Sderot at the funeral of the 47-year-old man killed on 27 February 2008
Thirteen Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza

A rocket fired by Palestinian militants the day before had killed a 47-year-old man at the same institute.

Mrs Gad, 42, realised she had made the right decision when another rocket landed close to the college the day Shay was skipping class - although this time nobody was killed or injured.

"I don't want my children in open spaces," says the mother-of-three sitting in her living room in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

"I'm terrified something will happen to them."

Traumatised

Like Mrs Gad and her children, the residents of Sderot have become used to playing a game of cat and mouse in order to avoid the rocket fire.

Students of Sapir College run for cover when a warning siren is sounded (28 February 2008)
Sderot is the main Israeli target of Palestinian rocket attacks

On recent days, more than 30 crude rockets have hit the town and the surrounding area.

Many of the residents here are traumatised by their experiences over the last few years.

People think twice about walking the streets, shopping for food and clothes, and letting their children play outdoors.

Businesses have few customers, house prices have dropped dramatically, and more than 3,000 of the town's 24,000 residents have upped and left.

Rocket fire

Mrs Gad's story is typical of those who have remained.

She says that she lost her job as an office manager two years ago because she was suffering from anxiety and stress, which made her unable to concentrate.

ROCKET ATTACKS FROM GAZA
A view of Sderot and the Gaza Strip in the background
900 rockets fired so far in 2008
4,500 since Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip in 2005
13 Israelis killed and more than 450 injured
More than 3,000 residents have left Sderot
28% of Sderot residents suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
74% of Sderot children aged 7-12 suffer anxiety
Sources: Israeli government, Israel Defence Force, Dachaf Public Opinion Research Institute

She says several of her friends have been wounded by the rockets and a close friend's daughter was killed.

This drab, modern town is now in the unenviable position of being the main Israeli target of Palestinian attacks due to its close proximity to Gaza.

The cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Hadera once bore the brunt of these Palestinian attacks.

But the Israeli military and security apparatus have greatly reduced the number of attacks on these cities in recent years.

For many Israelis, Sderot has now become a byword for the country's major security problem - its susceptibility to rocket fire.

Palestinian militants in Gaza say their rocket fire is in response to continued Israeli military aggression and the continued occupation of Palestinian land.

At least 24 Palestinians, mainly militants but also including five children, have been killed in the coastal territory since Wednesday.

Israel says its military operations - normally air strikes - are designed to stop the rockets.

Siren

When a rocket is fired from Gaza, a siren normally sounds alerting Sderot's residents, who mostly take cover in bomb shelters.

During a two-hour-long interview with Mrs Gad and her daughter this happened on three separate occasions.

Hava Gad
I don't want my children in open spaces -I'm terrified something will happen to them
Hava Gad

Mrs Gad ran with her daughter and huddled in the hallway between the bathroom and bedroom, away from the windows in case they were blown out by a blast.

"That's it," she said, returning to her living room after two rockets landed. "It's OK now."

Shay rushed to the computer to check the latest updates on the Israeli news websites, to see whether there were any casualties from the recent attacks.

The Israeli government has yet to find an effective solution to the rocket fire. It has threatened to launch a large-scale military incursion into Gaza.

But some analysts say that there can be no military solution to the problem, only a political solution - and that means talking to the Islamic movement, Hamas, which controls Gaza.

This is a step that many Israeli politicians are loath to take.

Bomb shelter

Almost all the residents here are bitter towards what they regard as the inaction of their government, but they are grateful for what they see as the growing support shown by ordinary Israelis.

Protest against the Israeli government in Jerusalem by residents of Sderot (17 February 2008)
The residents of Sderot want calm once again in their town

Last Friday, thousands descended on the town to spend their shekels in a show of support.

"It was great," says Ruth Azulai, 42, who runs a coffee shop in the town. "My shop was full."

But while residents here appreciate the big public gesture, what they really want is calm once again in their town.

Mrs Gad says that she is optimistic a solution will be found - but does not know what it will be.

What she does know, however, is that she, her husband and her three children will all sleep in their home's bomb shelter which also doubles as a bedroom.

Just as they did the night before.



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