Kassam-weary residents vow change

Communities surrounding Gaza place blame on government and military.

With daily Kassam rocket attacks still posing a very real threat to them six months after disengagement and despite attempts to quell the launchings, residents of communities surrounding the Gaza Strip have vowed to "shake up the nation and those in power, and force the government to address the situation once and for all." "Israel has lost its deterrence," says Gil Nir, head of security at Kibbutz Netiv Ha'asra, one of the terrorists' prime targets. "Rather than exacting a heavy price from the Palestinians, we are the ones to suffer. It appears that only after blood is shed will harsher action be taken. "We are no longer willing to be the country's sitting ducks," he told The Jerusalem Post. "We have no quarrel with the army, they are doing their job in accordance with instructions received by the government," he said. "The senior government echelon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz are the ones to blame - everyone appears to be too busy seeking political gain to deal with the situation." One officer noted that the IDF has succeeded in reducing the rocket fire and hampering movement of terror cells. Aside from the rocket attacks, there are far greater threats the army has to deal with, including infiltration attempts across the Egyptian border. "Since pulling out of Gaza, 58 terrorists have been killed, 28 while attempting to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza, or place bombs near the security fence," he said. In the six months prior to disengagement, over 1,000 Kassam rockets and mortar shells were fired at Gaza settlements. Since the disengagement, over 450 rockets have been fired at Israel, with a third falling in Palestinian areas, a significant decline, he said. On Thursday morning, two more Kassam rockets landed near the Netiv Ha'asra. No one was wounded in the attack. Soldiers were still attempting to determine where three other rockets fired at the same time landed. In response, IDF artillery units shelled uninhabited northern Gaza areas, but frustrated local residents have decided to take their own action as well. Several meetings have already been convened, but plans have yet to be finalized, Nir said, warning that "our action will not be limited to giving media interviews." United Kibbutz Movement spokesman Aviv Leshem said he believed attempts were under way to secure a meeting with officials at the Prime Minister's Office. Forced to suffer endless nights of interrupted sleep caused by IDF cannon fire responding to the attacks, residents see no end to the constant barrages they are forced to contend with, says Nir. Senior IDF officers admitted that the army would need to take far more aggressive action to completely halt the rocket fire, but rejected suggestions that the army's hands were tied by government policy. Defense Ministry sources insisted that while Mofaz has ordered the army to escalate its response, a widespread ground offensive in Gaza is not on the agenda. Still, Nir and other local residents remain unconvinced their safety needs are being fully addressed. While security measures have been implemented at Netiv Ha'asara, and security rooms provided, the dwellings where scores of Thai workers live remain unprotected, Nir said. "The Thai workers and kibbutz members work in the fields unprotected," he explained. Nonetheless, the situation at Netiv Ha'asara is better than at other communities surrounding Gaza. "Many still have no security rooms, and the roofs of kindergartens and schools in the area have yet to be dealt with," he said. "The rocket distance capability is constantly expanding, it is no longer a question of residents living near Gaza who are under threat, but major towns and cities in the center of the country." It's time for Israel to take more drastic steps, he added. "Why don't we shut down the power in Gaza every time a rocket is fired at Israel? Why should Palestinians in Gaza be allowed to continue driving cars running on gasoline supplied by Israel," he asked. However a Defense Ministry official insisted that calls to cut electricity power and gasoline supplies to Gaza residents will have no effect on the terrorists. "The Islamic Jihad is responsible for the attacks. Cutting power and other supplies will not solve the situation," he said. "While Israel must provide security for its citizens, Mofaz does not intend to order steps that could jeopardize Israel's legitimacy in the eyes of the world. How will Israel explain its actions if it cuts off electricity, and a Palestinian baby dies?"