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Israel's Sderot braces itself for end of truce with Hamas
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10:44, December 20, 2008

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by Claire Ben-Ari, Ma Xiaoyan

The streets of Sderot in southern Israel were bustling with residents as they scurried to work or go to school on Friday, while closely listening for the sound of the "Code Red" siren and the falling of Qassam rockets.

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement which rules Gaza, which has become particularly shaky in the past few weeks with increasing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, has officially expired and the town is now preparing for the worst.

FRONT LINE OF CONFLICTS

"We enjoyed the quietness for a few months and life was good, you could walk down the street without looking for the nearest shelter. But lately it feels like how it used to be before the lull," a Sderot shop owner named only Erez told Xinhua.

"If this is how life is with the ceasefire, I don't want to imagine how it will be after it ends," he added.

Directly opposite Sderot, across patchy fields, lies Gaza. Beyond the fields are the squat buildings of towns Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, from where the rockets are fired.

The location of Sderot, about three kilometers from the Gaza border, has made the town an easy target for rocket attacks.

Over 10,000 rockets were landed in the town during the last seven years, killing 12 people and injuring more than 600.

The town has found itself unwittingly on one of the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts with a declining population of 15 percent per annum.

Many of the families that remain, among the weakest socio-economic segments of Israeli society, cannot afford to move out or are unable to sell their homes.

The residents said that the main deadly effect of the attacks was to spread fear among the population. This and the accompanying trauma have yet to go away.

"Everyone knows someone in this town who has been affected by the Qassams," Erez explains. "Everyone has stories about Qassam."

  A MATTER OF LUCK

More than 20 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Wednesday. In one of the barrages a rocket hit a supermarket in the center of Sderot, lightly injuring three people and causing severe damage to the mall and 10 vehicles.

"Smashed windows, wrecked cars and bottles of alcohol were everywhere," said Borris, the manager of the shopping mall as he stands next to his car that was wrecked from the Qassam rocket.

In the morning after the Qassam attack, things were back to normal with customers smiling and chatting at the supermarket, which is not yet protected against rockets.

"At the time I felt terrible, we worked all night to clean up the mess and today everything is nearly back to normal, life goes on," he added.

At Sderot's central police station, a makeshift Qassam museum has been set up with hundreds of the rockets on display, giving a glimpse of what the people of Sderot experience daily. The dates they landed on or near Sderot were painted on their sides.

Immediately after a Qassam rocket landed Thursday in Nachal Oz, a village near Sderot, the area was surrounded with police and frightened civilians. The Qassam had struck just meters from the surrounding houses, although it was reported to have landed in an open field.

"We were lucky again today, but who says tomorrow we won't be so lucky," explains Gary, a resident of Nachal Oz, as the Qassam was being removed by the Israeli bomb squad. "I'm not scared but my children are."

Gary dismissed the significance of the end of the ceasefire, adding, "I think the situation can only get worse, but I try not to think about it."

STUCK IN MIDDLE

The truce gave both sides of Sderot and Gaza some "room to breathe," even if it seemed temporary. New bomb shelters have been springing up in school yards, near playgrounds and on the backs of homes.

While Gazans have experienced relatively quiet with increased food and aid due to the opening of crossings between Israel and Gaza.

Before this week's barrage, the truce brought the number of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza down from more than 50 on some of the worst days, to one every few days.

The number of Palestinians dying in Israeli military operations against the militants in Gaza had dropped after 388 were killed in the first half of the year.

During the calm the children of Sderot, for the first time in years were able to play outside, ride their bikes and visit friends.

"The way children in Sderot live their lives are not as how other children in Israel live theirs, it's something completely different," said Eliza Cohen, a mother from Sderot while walking her child to school.

However, Hamas officials in Gaza and Beirut announced on Thursday night that they would not extend the truce.

Nevertheless, even before the official's announcement, 11 rockets and six mortar shells had already been fired into Israel.

"We feel stuck in the middle and at times feel hopeless and forgotten," says Eliza. "There is no choice and nowhere to go for us. For now, we just want to live without fear for as long as possible and wait and see what the end of the ceasefire will bring."

Source: Xinhua



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