Town savors break from rockets

Hamas has all but halted strikes

The Associated PressJuly 30, 2009 

  • The Israeli military says that 7,865 rockets and mortars were fired on southern Israel between Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005 and the war's end in January.

    At least 4,000 of those hit Sderot. Eight people were killed, and hundreds were wounded.

    Since January, about 220 rockets have been fired on southern Israel, according to the army. The last rocket attack on Sderot was May 19.

Six months after Israel ended its bruising offensive against Gaza Strip militants, the people of this rocket-scarred border town are enjoying their calmest stretch in recent memory.

The rocket attacks that made life unbearable have all but stopped. Playgrounds are filled with children on summer vacation, stores are bustling and the town's public pool is open for the first time in five years.

"People are out more. There is movement. There is a different atmosphere," said Avigail Hazan, a 42-year-old storekeeper.

"Life before the war -- it wasn't life," said the town's deputy mayor, Rafik Agaronov. "Now, thank God, there is quiet. Hopefully, it will stay like this forever."

Israel's anger and frustration over the incessant rocket fire on this working-class town less than a mile from Gaza's border was the loudly proclaimed reason for its invasion of Gaza. The fact that the attacks have all but ended has improved the atmosphere and set the stage for possible talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hamas has not ruled out firing more rockets, but the militants seem to have stopped for now.

Before the war, the heavy rocket fire brought life in Sderot to a virtual standstill, and hundreds fled. Those who stayed behind kept close to home and to their fortified shelters.

Israel's massive air and ground assault, which began in December, killed more than 1,100 Palestinians, wounded thousands and caused massive destruction.

Despite a backlash of international criticism and war crimes allegations, Israel says the assault achieved its primary goal of stopping the rocket fire. Israeli officials think the offensive proved to be a powerful deterrent, though they also say Gaza's Hamas rulers are using the lull to rearm.

Hamas may now be showing restraint to gain favor with the outside world. The head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, said this month that Hamas is "giving more attention to diplomatic efforts to end its isolation."

Israel has also dramatically scaled back its military activities, though it maintains a stifling economic blockade that has prevented Gaza from rebuilding.

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