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Gaza Rockets Challenge Israeli Security


In Gaza today, Palestinian militants fired more homemade rockets into towns in southern Israel. Earlier this week, an Israeli woman was killed by rocket fire, the first such fatality this year.



The nearly five month-long Israeli military operation in Gaza has largely failed to reduce the almost daily rocket attacks. These rockets are not very powerful or accurate, but they are a real security challenge for Israel.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: It didn't take long for the Israeli Air Force to respond to Wednesday's death of 57-year-old Faima Slatsker(ph). The Russian émigré was killed while walking down the street in Stero, the working-class city she moved to just a few years ago.

Early Thursday, an armed Israeli drone circled over the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City. The buzz of the unmanned aircraft's engine - it sounds a little like a home lawn motor that's taken flight - is a common sound in the sky over Gaza, as is the occasional whoosh and thud of its deadly missiles.

(Soundbite of explosions)


WESTERVELT: The rocket hit its target, a house belonging to the leader of the radical group The Popular Resistance Committees, who was not harmed in the attack. The results of this air strike underscore the difficult challenge Israel's army faces in responding to the rocket fire. While the building was destroyed, the only people injured, medics in Gaza say, were two Palestinian civilians. That night, militants fired even more of the homemade Qassam rockets at Israel.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen.

Ms. MIRI EISEN (Spokeswoman, Israeli Government): It's very difficult to completely stop this type of rocket fire, where they're taking the rockets and going into the backyard of the neighbor, into the back alleyway and firing out of them, and then moving right in on. But having said that, we will continue to try and pinpoint the rocket fighters. We will defend our citizens.

WESTERVELT: So far, Israel's attempts to defend its citizens in the south have proven highly problematic. The Qassam rockets have not stopped falling. And ongoing Israeli military efforts to halt them have ended up killing scores of Palestinian civilians, including 18 from one family last week in the town of Beit Hanoun, when Israeli artillery went off target. The army said it was a computer glitch. Two militant groups said this week's deadly rocket fire into Sderot was, quote, revenge for Beit Hanoun.

But in Beit Hanoun, 33-year-old Tahani Ali Touna(ph), who lost her son and other family members in the errant artillery strike, says no more rockets should be launched at Israel in her name.

Ms. TAHANI Ali TOUNA (Palestinian): (Through Translator) I'm a Palestinian woman. No mother anywhere should have to see her son hurt or killed, not in America, not in Israel, not in the Arab world.

WESTERVELT: A senior Israeli military official, who spoke on condition he not be named, tells NPR that Hamas and other militant groups have in recent weeks smuggled tons of high-grade explosives, as well as wire-guided anti-tank rockets in to Gaza. The officer says it's an attempt to further emulate the guerilla tactics of Lebanese Hezbollah. But Palestinians in Gaza have yet to use any modern anti-tank rockets against Israeli forces, or put up any significant resistance during the army's nearly 5-month-old offensive in Gaza.

WESTERVELT: And it's the crude Qassam rockets produced in basement factories that continue to pose a security conundrum for Israel. The rockets have no guidance system, and have far less explosive power than the larger Katyushas, used with devastating effect by Hezbollah during this summer's war. Gaza militants, the army says, have fire more than a thousand Qassams at Israel this year.

Mr. MICHAEL OREN (Senior Fellow, Shalem Centre): The south of Israel, wherever those rockets fall, is dead now.

WESTERVELT: Analyst and historian, Michael Oren is with Jerusalem's Shalem Centre. He says part of the power of the Qassam is its random, unrefined nature.

Mr. OREN: And as the rocket expand in terms of their range, more of Israel will be dead, and no sovereign state can sustain that. So the Qassams may be primitive, but almost their very primitiveness increases their efficacy. Because they're so random, your life turns into a nightmare. And you're going to send your kids away, and no one is going to invest in your business, and your neighborhood is going to die, and your life is going to become a misery.

WESTERVELT: Some Sderot residents have already started to flee and send their children away. Gaza militants say, quite openly, they're working to expand the range and power of the Qassams. And there's fear in Israel, that militants, taking a tactical cue from Hezbollah, will eventually try to launch Qassams from the West Bank and threaten Israel's population centers.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.