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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 15:38 GMT
Witnessing Gaza's rocket militia
By Paul Martin
BBC, Gaza

Abu Rish brigade militant displaying a rocket (Photo: World News & Features)
The Abu Rish brigade's rockets have a habit of misfiring
On a bright and sunny afternoon in Khan Younis, in the eastern Gaza Strip, Abu Haroun places a Kalashnikov rifle into the hands of his nephew.

The gun is twice as tall as the little child.

"Remember, as I may not be coming back, learn to use this against the enemy one day," he says, giving the boy a farewell cuddle.

Abu Haroun is a black-clad militant from the Abu Rish brigade, one of the main groups which fires rockets into Israel.

He has three children and is a veteran of the conflict. He says he first threw stones at Israeli soldiers as an 11-year-old.

Then he began firing bullets late in the year 2000, the start of the second intifada, and soon learned how to prepare and fire rockets.

New recruit

Not far away, in a small room with peeling walls and pictures of past so-called martyrs, is a 23-year-old called Mohamed.

He is excited because, after three years with the group, this is to be his very first rocket-firing mission.

I am proud of you, my son - sometimes, it is necessary to kill
Father of Abu Haroun, member of Abu Rish brigade

A university-trained computer expert, he is peering at a screen, looking at Google Earth maps on the internet.

He is searching for the best target for their short-range rockets.

But Mohamed has a complaint: these Google Earth map-makers, he says, are deliberately hiding Israeli military installations.

Israel has claimed repeatedly that these rockets are not targeting anything military but are just fired indiscriminately to kill civilians.

After prayers on the balcony, Abu Haroun's father, 57, goes outside and picks some dates from his tree and offers them to the militants.

'Hero worship'

"I am proud of you, my son," he says. "Sometimes, it is necessary to kill."

The militants set out in a battered white jeep, its windows plastered with small photos of fighters who have been killed.

In a back street little boys stop playing football to gaze admiringly at their heroes.

As the jeep heads east towards the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, its occupants stop to ask locals if they have seen any of the much-feared zananas, or drones, in the sky.

Zanana is the local name for those unmanned small aircraft - so called because they make a zzzz buzzing noise.

A map of Gaza showing Gaza City, Khan Younis, Israel and Egypt

These craft do not just spot potential rocket firers but also have camera-guided rockets themselves that can hit the Gaza militants.

Satisfied that the skies are clear, they finally choose their launch spot - in a tree-lined alley - and quickly set up three small rockets painted in their groups own red and white colours.

"Fire!" says Abu Haroun.

But: nothing.

"It's the detonators," says Mohamed.

There are complaints that these days it is hard to get decent equipment.

Abu Haroun's rocket-firing militant group is from Fatah, the previously dominant movement which lost control of the Gaza Strip to its rivals Hamas last June.

Hamas, it is said, has better maintained rockets thanks to the multitude of secret tunnels that its men control which run under the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt.

Abu Rish brigade members prepare for an attack (Photo: World News & Features)
Many rockets misfire and never reach Israel
The failure of the first rocket does not deter the Abu Rish brigade.

Abu Haroun's men moved their equipment further back, in case a zanana had by now spotted them.

And as the sun goes down, they set up another rocket launcher amid the orange groves and this time it fires, with a big whoosh and a puff of white smoke.

The rocket veers crazily to the left and probably does not even get as far as Israeli territory: many misfire and fall into the surrounding Palestinian fields.

Abu Haroun is disappointed. He says only a few Israelis have died as a result of the rockets fired by all the different militant group. According to Israel there have been 13 fatalities in the last six years.

Yet Abu Haroun says it is vital to show Israel that, as he puts it, the Palestinian resistance will never stop.

The men of Hamas and Fatah who fired the rocket have different political objectives. But both groups see their campaign as part of their battle for land that they consider theirs.

Israeli victims

The next day we go to the Israeli town of Sderot.

This pressure on our people and our children is intolerable and it's not getting any better
Chief Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld, Sderot Police
Police say more than 4,000 rockets have landed in and around the town in the past few years.

In September a school came under fire, and a recent Israeli study says that more than three-quarters of the children in Sderot are being traumatised by the regular rocket attacks.

Outside the local police-station, Chief Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld displays a collection of some 500 twisted metal cylinders - the remains of those rockets from Gaza.

The older ones get recycled as scrap metal.

Late last year some locals even transformed rocket-casings into large candle-holders for the annual Jewish ceremony - the festival of lights - called Hanukah.

Inspector Rosenfeld says the citizens of Sderot only get 20 seconds warning of incoming rockets.

Hardly long enough to reach the safety of shelters.

"This pressure on our people and our children," he adds, "is intolerable and it's not getting any better."

I later meet one woman whose son was killed in a rocket attack.

"I feel very sorry for the mothers on both sides of this border," she says.

"All we now want is some peace and quiet."

Abu Haroun and men like him are determined that she will not get it.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 26 January, 2008 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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