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Israeli town has mixed feelings after Hamas' counterattack
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By Claire Ben-Ari, Huang Heng

"Where did it fall?" police and emergency crew shouted as they rushed to assist the injured from the Qassam attack in the southern Israeli town of Netivot. Everyone knows what "it" is.

Moments later, the "Color Red" alarm sounded again in the town that homes around 25,000 Jewish residents, causing the already frightened children and adults to run to wherever they can hide. "Don't be scared," a mother comforted her child in a dark, damp shelter room, while listening for the blast of the Qassam rocket.

The shelter was already full of the elderly and the young who are watching the news on TV, praying or comforting one another.

Just hours after Israeli President Shimon Peres announced to the press that Israel had no intention of igniting a regional war, Israeli helicopters and warplanes filled the cloudy sky Saturday morning, on their way to the Gaza Strip, launching a massive offensive against the ruling Hamas militant group there.

It came without warning, starting around 11:30 a.m. local time (0930 GMT) on the Jewish resting day of Sabbath, at a time when most religious Jews are returning from prayers. Over 30 missiles were fired at targets along the Gaza coast, destroyed several Hamas compounds.

Medical officials in Gaza reported Saturday evening that 205 people killed and more than 700 were wounded.

This is the harshest IDF assault on Gaza since the territory was captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. The IDF said the target of the operation was to stop the incessant rocket and mortar fire from the Strip at Israel.

However, in response, some 60 rockets from Gaza struck areas throughout Israel's surrounding Gaza communities. A rocket attack on Netivot killed an Israeli man and wounded six other people when their apartment was hit by a rocket.

Demshencor, a 17-year-old who immigrated from the Ukraine and now lives in Netivot, knows what it feels like to be in a war situation. She sits in her families lounge in an arm chair, surrounded by her three dogs -- just meters away from where she lay when the Qassam rocket hit.

"I saw the windows blast and all the dust and glass covered the room. Everything was silent and then I heard crying and screaming from the children down the hall," she said when explaining what happened just moments before.

"I knew it had hit our building. I just hugged the dogs and lay on the floor over there, the dogs were shivering with fright," she said, pointing to the ground which is now covered in glass and the walls splattered with holes caused from flying debris.

"I didn't want to leave the dogs so I didn't go to the security room," she added. With her humble Christmas tree propped on her coffee table, surrounded by glass and dust on the floor tiles, shelooked out of her window at the large hole where the Qassam struck the apartment wall, hugging the dogs and shivering.

"There was blood everywhere and everyone was crying and screaming at each other," she said, recalling the scene where her elderly neighbor was killed in the morning rocket attack. Two other rockets struck open areas in the city just moments after.

"All our family are in the army so I know how war feels like. There have been lots of alarms but I never dreamt it would hit our building," she added.

Many Jewish residents in the town were returning from prayers when the attacks started on Saturday morning.

"Alarms are going off all the time here and we are prepared and waiting for the worst," said Demshencor's 44-year-old mother, Carmel Eliana, standing on the top of a hill, which is a strategic point appropriately named by the locals "Qassam hill."

A large crowd of locals gather there to see Qassam rockets and army's attacks on Gaza, with mixed feelings of stress and happiness.

When asked what she thought about the situation, Bridget, a resident of Netivot, said that she was "scared right now but happy that Israel is finally defending itself."

"Something has to change, you know, eight years of terror attacks is much to bear," she added, as smoke, fire, blasts and bombing sounds arose from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, looking like an unreal miniature lego war, with only large blasts, shaking the earth make it real.

Less than 100 kilometers away, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a press conference in Jerusalem that the operation against Hamas in Gaza "will be expanded as is needed. I don't want to mislead anyone, it won't be easy and it won't be short."

(Xinhua News Agency December 28, 2008)

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