Hizbollah's rockets have Arabs and Israelis in their sights

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The Independent Online

Rabbia Taluzi, three, and Mahmoud Taluzi, seven, were playing in a street in the crowded heart of Nazareth yesterday afternoon when the Katyusha came out of clear blue sky and killed them. The two boys became the first Israeli Arabs to die in this eight-day war when four Hizbollah rockets - which now seem to make no distinction between Jewish and Arab victims in northern Israel - hurtled into the densely populated hill town where Jesus grew up.

In this asymmetrical war, the Israeli death toll is only a very small fraction of the one over the border. But it is slowly rising. Rabbia and Mahmoud were the 14th and 15th Israeli civilians to die in the past week, killed by the shrapnel that flew more than 30 feet from where last night the crater ­ perhaps three and half feet by three ­ and the smashed window frames of the adjacent houses testified to the force of the blast. In the yard behind one of them, dozens of children from the same extended family had been playing as the adults enjoyed a reunion with the children's grandmother inside the house. Several were among the 18 injured taken to three Nazareth hospitals. Last night Koranic verses of lamentation were recited through a loudspeaker from the mosque close to where the boys died.

As the sun set over the melancholy scene, a tense and emotional crowd gathered, their shock that Hizbollah would hit an Arab town compounded by anger at the lack of public ­ or private ­ shelters, warning sirens or clear advice in Arabic from the government.

Tarek Salah, 37, the owner of the house where the reunion was taking place, said: "I was sitting in my living room. The kids were playing in the back yard. I heard a huge explosion and went straight out through the front. When I came out I saw two kids lying on the ground. At first I thought they were my kids because they were burnt and I couldn't recognise them." Mr Salah, one of whose sons was lightly injured by the blast, said that the children were actually neighbours from a house about 50 metres away " but they often play here". He added: "We need to live in peace. Both sides need to live in peace. My sons are important; their sons [in Lebanon] are important."

As some residents displayed ball bearings and fragments of shrapnel spread all over the area from the rocket ­ including behind the house, which had protected most of the children from the blast ­ one of Mr Salah's neighbours, Mohammed Razeq, 50, said: "We want all the countries to stop the war. We are here without shelters. We have no place to put the kids. The Home Front [command of the army] have not given us any instructions about what to do with our kids. We do not want war. We want to live together. My son could be killed; your son could be killed. And for what?" Another neighbour, Abdul Khaliq Said, 54, said: "I feel very bad. It's a matter of chance. It could be anybody." Most of those in the crowd were unwilling to apportion blame for the war, but Mr Said said of the attack: "As a human being I am angry. Of course I am angry. But I am an Israeli citizen. What can I do?" Of the damage caused by the rocket and another which fell on a ­ fortunately empty ­ Mazda car showroom nearby, Mr Said said: "The property we can recover. The kids we can't get back."

The majority of civilian victims in Israel have been Jewish. The most recent before last night's deaths of the two children was a man in Nahariya who had simply left the town centre's main public shelter for a few moments to fetch a towel for his daughter.

But the Israeli Arab Knesset member Taleb al-Sanaa said last night after the explosions in Nazareth that because of discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel there were no sirens or shelters in Arab areas.

Ha'aretz reported that the military's Home Front had acknowledged that instructions on what to do in the event of Katyusha attacks had not yet been translated into Arabic.