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A Postcard From The Gaza Front

Posted: 01/08/09 02:09 PM ET

!#*&%@%!!!

First comes the earnest incoming alert "Color Red! Color Red" giving 15 seconds to find shelter. Then with a kishka-twisting crump, a rocket thuds into Sderot too close for comfort, followed by a several more hits nearby in the barrage.

What had started out as a routine media briefing about Operation Cast Lead and life in Sderot - the Israel city 2.5 km away from the Gaza Strip - suddenly becomes personal. My colleagues and I, crowded into a corridor in the local police station, have a visceral understanding of the eight-year rain of rockets and mortars under which the people of Sderot have been living.

"How many's that today?" asks Ashraf Khalil, the debonair, Arabic-speaking correspondent for The Los Angeles Times. A giant of a policeman nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders. "I stopped counting."


Photo: Walter Bingham

The press conference continues under equally nonplussed Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld. One million Israeli civilians are under constant rocket threat, he resumes his thread. And then another officer drives into the parking lot where we are standing. Part of the emergency team dispatched following the attack, he is gingerly carrying the still hot-to-the touch remains of a rocket which had fallen by Sderot's main bus station a football field away.

Rosenfeld coolly identifies it as a 122 mm Qassam carrying 8 kg of explosives. "Made in the Gaza Strip," he determines with an expert's eye. Behind him are thousands of rusting remains of rockets that had smashed into the city, each marked with the date and place of impact.

Differentiating between different fin types and soldering methods, Rosenfeld identifies which had been manufactured in Gaza by Hamas, which by Islamic Jihad, and which smuggled in via Egypt from munitions plants in China and Iran.

"What country in the world [apart from Israel] sends SMS messages to get out of a building before bombing it?" he asks. Implicit in the question is the reverse of that logic - that while Israel seeks to prevent civilian casualties, Hamas with its unguided weapons targets to kill as many innocents as it can.

I know. I am one of them.