Rocket fire defines life in southern Israeli town
By AMY TEIBEL,Associated Press Writer AP - 42 minutes ago
SDEROT, Israel - Few residents of the Israeli town of Sderot are on the streets these days. They prefer to sit out the war in safer parts of the country or barricade themselves at home as Palestinian rockets keep coming despite Israel's devastating military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers. One mile outside Gaza, Sderot was for years the top target of Palestinian rocket fire. Its residents have long demanded a military campaign to wipe out Gaza rocket squads, saying the current disruption of their lives is a small price to pay if the war brings what they long for: the ability to walk outside without hearing the dreaded rocket alert.
Maxim Ben-Zikri runs one of the few thriving businesses in the town of 24,000 people: His Alum Mondial window business specializes in fixing houses that have been damaged by rocket fire. "I have work all the time, but that doesn't make me happy," he says.
He used to fix windows in Jewish settlements in Gaza before Israel pulled out of the seaside strip that is home to 1.4 million Palestinians in 2005. Now that Gaza militants have taken over those former settlements and moved closer to Israel, he has his hands full repairing windows in Israeli border communities.
He and his son work on 15 houses a day, he says. They've been stocking up on glass "so people won't have to wait more than a few hours," he says, estimating that he has stockpiled four tons of glass and at least three tons of aluminum. On Tuesday, he had to pick up supplies from a vendor in another town who was too afraid to deliver.
After eight years of rocket barrages from Gaza, the people of Sderot have the drill down: The Code Red alert warning of incoming rocket fire sends them rushing into one of the many safe rooms scattered across the town. For taxi driver Zion Asulin, that meant he had just seconds to pull his van to the side of a road Tuesday and shepherd his eight passengers to safety. He barely managed to hustle inside a safe room before a rocket struck a few yards away from his taxi, blowing out the windows.
One of his passengers, heading with her suitcase out of rocket range to Tel Aviv, sobbed on her daughter's shoulder. Only after repeated prodding did she agree to go to the trauma center.
The rockets that usually land in Sderot are crude projectiles manufactured in Gaza. But they can maim or kill, and when they land close, they set off a terrifying blast.
At a health center near the site where Asulin parked his taxi, the explosion left several people in tears, while others were instantly on their cell phones, dialing loved ones to tell them they were not hurt.
"We've been in this situation for eight years, but now it's worse," says Rosette Gozlan, who has spent 45 of her 62 years in Sderot. "We pray it will end."
Albert el-Harrat came to Sderot 47 years ago, when it was a tent camp. "People are waiting and praying that the offensive will continue until it's completed," _ that is, until the rocket fire stops.
"We don't want to attack civilians. We want to attack the Hamas leaders who order people to attack (our) civilians," he says.
El-Harrat doesn't have a safe room at his house: "I live on miracles," he shrugs.
Israel's military campaign hasn't stopped the rocket fire, so the government has shut down schools across the south.
Sderot residents joke that kids have been put under house arrest, but not all of them are unhappy. Bomb shelters have been transformed into makeshift clubhouses, where kids under the supervision of soldiers or volunteers can play games, do art projects or just hang out.
"I'm happy" not to be in school, said 10-year-old Shmuel Edry. School, he explained, "is a pain."
Barak Shlossberg, the soldier in charge at the shelter, says the kids are happy there because it's safe. One substitute teacher _ an air force servicewoman _ was armed with an M-16 assault rifle, a sign of the times.
Although many Sderot residents haven't gone to work since the military onslaught in Gaza began on Dec. 27, gardener Dan Suissa has plenty to do. City Hall has stepped up gardening.
"It offers some optimism, some color," Suissa explains. "We need color here, and not the kind we're used to," he adds, referring to the Code Red alert.
An alert goes off while he's sitting at a cafe, and he and the other customers head for its storeroom, waiting to hear the rocket explode, the only all-clear sign.
The military operation, with its mounting Palestinian civilian casualties, has elicited widespread condemnation, but Suissa is unmoved. "I welcome this operation," he says.
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