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Monday, December 13, 2004

Mortar attacks increase

Since September 2000, 4,885 mortar rounds and Qassam or Al-Batar rockets have been fired at Gush Katif and northern Gaza Strip settlements. Residents update the number daily. The religious newspaper Hatsofeh publishes the figure in a daily box on its front page. The settler-run Web site Katif.net includes a 'mortar counter,' which periodically plays the sound of bursting shells, something that residents still find hard getting used to.
As long as the number of mortar rounds equaled the number of miracles, Gush Katif residents tried to take it in stride, but since the disengagement plan was announced, and especially in recent months, the mortar volleys have intensified, with an average of a dozen shells or rockets landing every day.

The number of direct hits has grown. The number of shock and anxiety victims, hundreds till now, has also grown. Some 100 houses have been hit directly; about 300 indirectly. Dozens have been wounded. Two people have been killed. A lot of property has been damaged - hothouses, roads, sidewalks, trees, electricity poles and lampposts, public structures and private homes.

Eight people were hurt Friday when a mortar shell exploded in a yard, but shells also have hit houses directly and sometimes kill: Tiferet Tratner was killed by mortar fire last Yom Kippur Eve. Other direct hits have miraculously caused no casualties. Rachel Sapirstein from Neveh Dekalim survived the exploding of three Qassams near her car recently. After the Namir family heard a mortar shell penetrate the roof of their Neveh Dekalim home, they found the shell lying unexploded on the floor next to baby Shlomo's crib. The synagogue compound in Neveh Dekalim was shelled more than once. Another shell landed inside the toilet of a private home. A mortar volley landed just a week ago in a yard outside kindergartens in Atzmona. Nearly every Gush Katif resident has a miracle to recount.

Friday's shelling continued undisturbed for 20 minutes, leading previously whispered grumbles to become near-formal statements. 'This abandonment appears to be directed from above,' says Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif Council. Sternberg and quite a few residents suspect that the ease with which Palestinians have been hitting them lately is intended to push them to disengage from their homes. The intensive fire is indeed taking a toll on residents' cohesiveness as they struggle to maintain two fronts - against the disengagement plan and against the mortar shells.