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Page last updated at 18:35 GMT, Sunday, 28 December 2008

Rocket attacks plague Israeli towns

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Woman grieves at funeral of Beber Vaknin, Netivot
Beber Vaknin's heart was pierced by shrapnel from a rocket strike

Israeli residents of communities close to Gaza have faced a wave of rocket fire from Palestinian militants in response to Israel's air strikes in the Strip.

Some 150 rockets and mortars have been fired, most of them on Saturday, since Israel launched its assault, killing one person and injuring about 12.

On Sunday residents of the southern town of Netivot buried Beber Vaknin, 58.

The metal worker was standing at the entrance of his apartment on Saturday when a rocket struck the third floor of the building across the street. Shrapnel pierced his heart.

Photos showed a hole in one of the building's walls, which was pocked with shrapnel marks.

Zion Mor-Yossef, who lives on the floor above Vaknin, told the BBC by telephone that the attack was a "great shock".

"We were all terrified", he said.

Like many of the roughly 250,000 residents of the region within range of the rockets and mortars, Mr Mor-Yossef's wife and children have left their home fearing more attacks.

"I had to stay because I work here. If I won't stay and provide for us, no-one will," he said.

Firing line

Much of the Palestinian militants' arsenal is made up of crudely-made, undirected rockets - little more than explosives-packed pipes with metal fins welded onto the end.

Although they rarely kill, they are designed to do so, are indiscriminate, and have on occasion been fired at times coinciding with children's journeys to school.

The residents of communities in the firing line have become used to planning their lives around the locations of reinforced concrete shelters.

Rocket removed from building in Sderot (24.12.08)
Sderot residents have faced rocket strikes for many years

With only 15 seconds warning, those within 10km (six miles) of the Gaza Strip know well they must run for cover as soon as the "Code Red" sirens sound.

Those further away have up to 45 seconds.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, residents of Ashdod, little more than 30km (18 miles) from Gaza, heard at least two rockets had landed close to their city.

Israeli officials had warned residents of the area that militants in Gaza had expanded the range of their weapons in recent months, while Hamas had ramped up its threats.

One of the missiles hit an agricultural cooperative:

"We heard the siren, and several moments later there was a very loud explosion," a resident told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahranot.

"The entire house trembled. We have nowhere to go to because we have no fortified rooms.

There's a shelter located several houses away from here, but we couldn't reach it.

'Anxiety'

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Footage of the aftermath of rocket strikes on Sderot and Ashkelon

South of Ashdod, the town of Ashkelon too, was braced for further retaliation after two people were lightly injured as two rockets landed - one between two buildings, the other next to a shopping mall.

Daniela Afriat, a local teacher, told the BBC she was confined to her home for hours overnight as security forces tried to make safe an unexploded rocket that landed outside her fifth floor apartment.

"We're living in anxiety. The kids are very frightened. They keep saying 'Mum let's leave¿'"

But she says she is "very glad" the operation in Gaza has been launched: "Even with all the difficulties, with being a mother and being terrified, I think it had to be done."

In Sderot, the largest town close to Gaza, which has been pounded over the past few years, some residents spoke with a sense of resignation, having become used to periodic barrages of rocket fire.

David Saidov, a student studying in the town, said his college was closed, but life, though tense, continued "almost as usual".

"The streets are dead, although most businesses are open. There's a sense of fear in the air," he said.

"We are very scared of what Hamas is preparing for the people of Sderot¿

"We hope the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] will take care of its 'business'".



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