'Shrapnel hit the place where we were hiding'

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The Independent Online

The orange-haired, freckled 12-year-old was remarkably calm as he recounted his escape from a Qassam rocket. "[My mother and I] heard two alarms and I went outside a little bit to look," said Yossi Shalev as he sat in the casualty unit at Barzilai Hospital, which has been moved to a basement to protect it from Palestinian shelling.

"I saw something black in the sky that was flying quickly and I went back in. My mother and I were crouched down. The rocket fell in the street, about five or six metres from us. Shrapnel hit the container we were in in six places."

Only his T-shirt was torn, leaving his relatives insisting that it was a Hanukkah miracle. "I have a lot of luck," the boy admitted. His story will reinforce among his countrymen the sense that the attacks in Gaza are justified.

As of yesterday, only a handful of people in southern Israel had suffered shock or been slightly hurt after more than 20 rockets and mortars hit the area. On Saturday, one man died when a rocket hit Netivot. While the casualty toll was lighter than feared, tension and fear were palpable in the border towns – from Sderot to Ashdod, the port city 37km (23 miles) north of Gaza, where two rockets struck yesterday in the deepest missile penetration yet by Hamas.

"We thought the rockets would not reach here. We've been watching it for eight years in other places and now it's here," said Batel Gedg, a waitress at an empty restaurant in Ashdod. In Ashkelon, the barber Dudi Haim said he had cleared his basement so his family could take refuge there. "My 10-year-old boy has fear in his eyes." He lent support to the bombardment of Gaza. "It is sad because there are a lot of innocent people over there, but we also have children and families. The Arabs don't understand any other way, only force."

Ohed Peer, from a nearby agricultural community, said: "I'm a bit bothered by the scope of [the bombings]. Still, these were focused attacks, not random shelling like they do to us daily." But he was against any ground operation by the Israeli army.