Monday, May 28, 2007

Sderot, Eyewitness Report

Nearly 20 Qassam rockets fell in Sderot on Monday, causing no damage.One man was lightly injured, and several others were treated for shock.

A group of female soldiers suffered shock after one of the rockets landed near them. Magen David Adom paramedics treated the soldiers at the scene and evacuated them. IDF troops stationed in Sderot are required to wear helmets at all times.Two of the rockets fell in an open field, one near a cemetery the other near a horse stable.

According to the Yideot Achranot newspaper, the Tzalach a-Din brigades, military wing of Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks.

On Sunday Oshri Oz, a 36-year-old Hod Hasharon resident, was killed when a Kassam rocket landed near his car in Sderot. Oz, a Hod Hasharon computer technician was killed during one of his three weekly computer repair visits to Sderot. Reportedly he was driving his car when the warning sirens went off. A policeman said he waved the car to stop but Oz misunderstood, thought the policeman was just waving hello, waved back and continued driving.

A Qassam rocket landed near his car, spraying the vehicle with shrapnel. Mortally wounded Oz then left the car, took a couple of steps and collapsed. He died in the streets shortly afterwards. Oz was the second fatality in Sderot in less than a week and the 10th Israeli to be killed in rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip.

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot called on students to return to school, but only 811 out of the 3,000 pupils in Sderot arrived at schools Monday morning, as studies resumed. Some 161 preschoolers out of the 900 children in Sderot's kindergartens resumed their activities, in sheltered locations.

May 17, last Wednesday, marked the first time - after enduring more then 4,500 rocket attacks over six years - that city officials, with support from the Defense Ministry, planned the temporary removal of some residents.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the plan was not an "evacuation," but rather a program designed to give residents a break from the city.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said the temporary removal of 16 percent of the 24,000 city residents could be helpful, even though he had long been an advocate of standing firm and not leaving the city. The latest rocket barrage had caused something to snap among residents, he said.

Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff, called for a full-scale invasion of Gaza, saying this was the only way, in his opinion, to put a stop to the rocket attacks. According to Yaalon, who has recently surfaced in the press as possible Likud party leader, there is no quick solution to the Gaza problem.

Other press reports say that Israel's PM Ehud Olmert believes that the Gaza problem will take a long time to solve. He said that Israel would act when it was ready. Olmert reportedly turned down an IDF plan for a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Media reports state that Hamas has prepared lethal booby-traps for Israeli tanks and troops should they attempt to reoccupy Gaza.

Some analysts, like the Israel Television Channel One Arab Affairs reporter, said that the Palestinians in Gaza wanted a cease-fire with Israel, but “didn’t know how to climb down from the tree they were on.”

The Qassam firing heated up when Fatah and Hamas began fighting for power in Gaza about a week ago. The two groups reportedly competed for public opinion by seeing which of the two could fire the most rockets into Israel. Some pundits believed that both groups hoped that the Israelis would mount a fierce counter-attack, which would unify the splintered Palestinian groups to fight against Israel rather among themselves.

Indeed Israel did mount daily attacks against Hamas and whatever bands of terrorists they could find firing missiles at Israel. Two days ago Israel destroyed a Hamas training base, killing fifty Hamas activists. Israeli helicopters also fired at other targets in Gaza.Two more Hamas activists were killed Tuesday night by Israeli helicopter fire. Reportedly these men were preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Israel also began rounding up Hamas politicians in the West Bank, ostensibly to prevent them from mounting attacks on Israel from towns like Nablus and Jenin. Both PM Olmert and the IDF stated that no Hamas member was immune from attack. This was interpreted by Hamas to mean that Israel would resume the strategy of selective targeting of Hamas officials. Not long after talks of a cease-fire were heard coming from Hamas leaders. In response, Hamas leader Mashal said from Damascus that Hamas has no intention of halting the attacks against Israel.

Avi Maman, a firefighter in Sderot, said that the Qassam rockets usually begin falling on Sderot around 6:30 AM and last until about 10:00 AM , when most people are at work. Then the Palestinians take a break and don’t begin firing rockets again until after 5:00 PM in the afternoon, and keep on firing sometimes until 2:00 AM. These evening attacks are aimed at people who have returned from work.

Avi was in his fire-station at 4:00 in the afternoon, awaiting the evenings attacks. His 16-year old high school student son Tsefi was also there, getting the keys from Dad to drive into nearby Kyriat Melachi. When asked about school, Tsefi said there wasn’t any, not really. Dad asked Tsefi to show us around Sderot, and he was kind enough to do so, although he was impatient to get on with his afternoon.
When asked to point out the areas of Sderot most often hit by rockets, he waved his hand across the entire map, saying, “They fall all over. There is no one place, or area. All over.”

Before we set off Avi said, “Roll your window down and turn off your radio. You want to be able to hear the warning siren if it goes off. Then you jump out of your car, and run for shelter. These Qassams they send out shrapnel, knee high, that cuts right through steel doors, and hit just about where you’d be sitting if you stay in the car. Oh, and don’t buckle your seat-belt. You may have to get out in a hurry.”

The first place Tsefi showed us was a pleasant white stucco four-story apartment building, with a hole punched neatly through the red tile roof, scattering debris into the apartment, and onto the street. Surprisingly a mother and father and teenaged daughters were still living in the apartment below the one hit.

The next stop was a synagogue, again with a hole punched neatly through the roof, the ceiling hanging down into the room, nearly touching the tables and bookshelves lined with tractates of the Talmud. The floor was covered an inch thick with rubble.
“The rockets come in straight, down, pow,” Tsefi said. He offered to show us a third apartment, but was told by his two teenage buddies driving in the car that repairs had already begun on that house.

The boys took off and we headed to the center of town, where the city had set up an emergency service center. The supermarket was open, the small shopping center busy with cars, and the store serving a number of shoppers. A half-dozen men sat in front of a run-down coffee shop playing cards on a tattered wooden table, sipping Turkish coffee and smoking. A little sweet shop was open. The owner, a man with wrinkled worried skin covered by a two-day growth of gray stubble, smiled a one-tooth smile and took the money for a soft drink and some cashews. The television was on in the corner broadcasting the latest debates among politicians of what to do about Sderot.

In the plaza just down the front of the shabby strip-mall, a stocky bearded man with a red bandanna over his graying hair, tied off just behind his pony-tail, wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt played an electric guitar to entertain the scraggly showing of Sderot residents. His sound system, a mixer powered by a car battery and two speakers, rested on the seat of his garishly painted Harley-Davidison sportster. “We’re gonna be strong when the Qassam’s fall,” he sang. A few TV crews and still photographers took pictures.

Across the street a half-dozen Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross) men were putting a sign up on a home that also advertised itself as a clothing store. The home had been taken over as the Sderot Emergency Relief Center.

Even Chabad was in on the act with a 35-foot Southwind Mitzvah Tank a few feet away from the Harley.

Sderot was alive. People were in the streets. Two teenaged girls walked arm in arm across an empty sandy field, that one day would probably be an apartment complex but now was just the plot of dirt connecting one neighborhood to another. A middle-aged man was out speed walking with his young son, another man in his twenties was jogging, mothers were pushing their babies in strollers. The sun was soft painting the town in a Van Gough pastel yellow.
It wasn’t until 9:00 PM that the Qassams started falling, again.