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05 Apr 2006 09:20
In the skies above Gaza, an Israeli drone circles slowly overhead before its distant buzz is drowned out by the whistling of a missile.
“You see, this is what our life has become,” says Abdallah as he watches the missile explode nearby in a massive cloud of dust.
For the mainly Bedouin population of this enclave in the northern Gaza Strip, life has become a living nightmare since the Israeli military declared it a no-go zone and began pounding the area in a bid to end rockets being fired into their territory.
“We just can’t sleep at night as the sound is so loud. The children are terrified, the adults as well,” says shopkeeper Abdallah Abu Hashish.
“For the past three days, we have had an F-16 bomb the roads so much that it feels like an earthquake.”
A little further beyond the hamlet, the thinly asphalted road has been severed by a massive crater.
A group of children passing close by play with fragments from the missile fired from above.
Scattered on the ground are leaflets air-dropped by the Israelis which warn that “as long as the rocket firing continues, the response of the military will be stronger and stronger”.
The no-go zone has been in place since the start of the year but the military has stepped-up shelling since an unprecedented attack last week with a Katyusha rocket, which has a much longer range than normal makeshift missiles.
The army believes that militants use the zone’s proximity to the border with Israel as an attractive launch site for missiles.
“The Israelis bombard our roads to prevent the movement of the armed groups.
“And even if someone came to the village to fire a rocket, what can we do?” they ask. “If we tried to stop them, they might think we are collaborators and fire them at us instead.”
At night-time, everyone now avoids going out. “If you want to go to Gaza City now, you think twice. Nobody goes out driving unless it’s absolutely necessary,” says one man, who is reluctant to give his name for fear of upsetting his employers in Israel.
The Israeli army insists that it only targets uninhabited areas which locals have been given ample warning to steer clear of but witnesses say that some shells have hit either close to buildings or fields under cultivation. On Sunday, a seven-year-old boy, Taleb Fedus, was wounded in Beit Lahiya.
“This is what hit him,” recounts his father Mustapha as he fingers a shell fragment which hit only a few metres from his son in a cauliflower field.
“Usually the Israelis fire at the old settlements, Nissanit, Dugit and Elei Sinai. But on Sunday, no one knows why they fired three shells here,” he said.
“Only shortly before, 30 people had been out gathering their produce,” he said.
His wife, Sadiqa, is afraid that she too could be the target of an overhead strike from one of the unmanned spy planes.
“We can’t cover up our carts which take the harvest to the markets as they might think we are carrying rockets,” she said.
“At least when the settlers were here, they didn’t hit us half as much,” she adds.
In Beit Lahiya, as in Umm al-Nasser, no one admits to helping the armed groups such as Islamic Jihad launch the rockets. But people do support their motives.
“They have the right to respond to the Israeli crimes. It is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” says Shaaban, a local police officer. - AFP
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