Page last updated at 22:08 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Taking cover on Sderot front line

By Paul Wood
BBC News, Sderot

Israeli residents help an elderly woman after a rocket attack on Sderot, 30 December 2008
Israelis are coming together as they feel the nation under threat
The alarm goes and suddenly the whole street is moving in the same direction - to the bomb shelter.

It is by now a well-practised routine for the residents of Sderot. It has to be.

There can be as little as 15 seconds warning of an incoming rocket fired from Gaza.

We were eating in a cafe when one of the day's many sirens sounded.

The nearest shelter happened to be just across the road, a tiny, squat concrete building which looked like a public convenience. We crowded in as another missile landed.

'Long overdue war'

"Now you can see what life is like for us here," said Yakov Shoshani, raising his voice to make himself heard over the sound of a loud crump.

It is not known exactly what rockets Hamas and other groups in Gaza have
Israel says Hamas used the six-month truce to boost its arsenal through smuggling tunnels
Grad-style missiles have reached Ashkelon since 2006
Recent strikes in Ashdod could be Iranian-made Oghab, Fajr-3 or Ra'ad missiles

Angrily wagging his finger while those around him nodded in agreement, he went on: "I want all the citizens of England to understand us - and to understand what our government is doing in Gaza against terror."

Mr Shoshani repeated a figure you hear all the time now from Israeli spokesmen: that 6,000 rockets and mortars had fallen on the southern Israeli towns near Gaza since 2000.

So residents of Sderot feel that the air war against Hamas is long overdue. They came out to applaud and honk car horns when the F-16s returned from their first bombing run over Gaza on Saturday.

They still fervently support the air campaign even though, at the moment, it means more missiles falling on their town.

One hit a house while we were there. A policeman brought out what remained of the rocket: a metal tube about 2ft long with twisted fins.

It had punched a small hole in the red-tiled roof of the house and smashed up some garden furniture.

'Whatever it takes'

The rockets, mostly made in workshops in Gaza, are crude and lack guidance systems. But there is no doubting the genuine fear they cause in places like Sderot.

Israeli paramedics evacuate a woman in shock after a rocket attack on Sderot, 30 December 2008
Rockets and mortars induce shock and fear in Israeli civilians

No-one was hurt in that particular attack but a woman was hysterical with the shock of it all, sobbing uncontrollably before she collapsed into the arms of her husband.

Watching all this was the Israeli Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, on a visit to Sderot. He told me Israel would do whatever it took to defeat Hamas.

"It is inconceivable that there is any other country in the world would suffer this situation and restrain itself for so long, for eight years," he said.

"We are going to break the desire of the Hamas to keep shelling Israel... We are ready to go as far as it is needed. There will be no limits until this goal is achieved."

So, in the short term at least, Israel will not heed international calls for a ceasefire.

'Complete the operation'

In Sderot, talk of the high number of Palestinian casualties tends to get blank looks.

Sderot house hit by a rocket, 30 December 2008
Israelis say 6,000 rockets have fallen on southern towns since 2000

Some people did say they did not wish any civilians to be harmed - always adding, however, that the Palestinians had brought it on themselves.

Mainly, they wanted the Israeli armed forces to be given the time to complete the operation properly.

On the main street, young Israelis were giving out cakes to passing motorists. It was a gesture of solidarity.

Israelis everywhere are coming together as they feel the nation under threat. Even the Israeli left has been relatively silent about what is happening in Gaza.

The fact that the Israeli public is still solidly behind the military operation gives the politicians a free hand.

On the way out of Sderot, we could see the police and army checkpoints which mark the boundary of what is now a closed military zone around Gaza.

Within that zone tanks and armoured vehicles are massing. The order to go has not been given - yet.

A ground offensive would be very risky. There would be high casualties on both sides. But Israel appears determined to continue - until its war aims are achieved.

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