- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

SDEROT, Israel — A few hours after Avraham Yehudai bowed to the entreaties of his 14-year-old daughter, Rotem, and moved the family out of their house in this southern Israeli town, a rocket crashed through the roof.

As if underscoring the deadliness of the bullet the family had just dodged, the rocket fired Sunday night landed in Rotem’s then-empty bedroom.

In the past month, 15 Qassam rockets produced by Hamas have struck Sderot, the largest Israeli community within rocket range of the Gaza Strip, three miles away.

Although Israel last week successfully tested the sophisticated Arrow system capable of intercepting ballistic missiles fired across oceans, it has been unable to find an answer to the primitive Qassams — described as “flying pipes” — which are made in backstreet workshops of Gaza.

Qassams have been fired intermittently at Sderot and other communities for more than a year, but they were so inaccurate that they almost always fell in open fields, sometimes inside Gaza itself.

However, an upgraded version with greater accuracy and a heavier payload has in recent weeks begun to take a toll.

On June 28, Qassams claimed their first fatalities, a child and a grandfather killed outside a Sderot kindergarten. Several other persons have been wounded by the rockets.

Following the fatal rocketing, Israel sent its army into Bait Hanoun, a rural town in the northern part of the Gaza Strip from where the Qassams had in the past been fired, since it was the closest part of the strip to Sderot.

However, the longer range of the upgraded Qassam has permitted its operators to move south to the large Jabaliya refugee camp, the most densely populated area of the Gaza Strip, into which any incursion would involve heavy casualties.

In the past five days, six Qassams have exploded within a 200-meter radius inside the Sderot neighborhood closest to the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t need an alarm clock,” a resident said this week. “The Qassams come every morning at 7:30.”

It was this pattern that induced Rotem Yehudai to plead Sunday that the family stay with relatives in nearby Beersheba until the rocketing ceases.

“I knew it was only a matter of time until one hit us,” she said yesterday.

When her father saw the damage and realized how narrowly his family had escaped tragedy, he went into shock and was taken to a hospital.

For Hamas, the Qassam is a strategic weapon that mitigates the enormous edge the Israeli military has over it in conventional fighting.

The Islamic organization claims that Israel’s decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip is a victory for Hamas militancy.

In this regard, it clearly intends to continue harassing Israel with the Qassams in order to prove that point.

Israel is reluctant to become embroiled in a costly ground operation in Gaza to root out the Qassam workshops, particularly in view of its intention to evacuate the strip next year.

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