Palestinians mix doubt with pride at Gaza rockets

GAZA Tue Jan 6, 2009 3:31pm GMT

GAZA (Reuters) - For Palestinians hunkered down under Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip, among the most powerful symbols of the conflict are the home-made rockets militants have fired at Israel, and which Israel says it is now determined to stop.

Nicknamed Qassams -- in reference to an Islamist fighter of the 1930s -- more than 4,000 have been fired since 2001, killing 18 people in Israel before last month's Israeli offensive. Four more have died in rocket fire since December 27.

While there is pride among Gazans that militants are able to strike 40 km (25 miles) into Israel with home-made weapons, there is concern that the tactic has prompted far more death and destruction through Israeli retaliation than it has wrought.

"I always disagreed with the rockets," said a Gazan man in his 40s, unwilling to give his name for fear of reprisals from the militants as he sheltered from the latest Israeli bombardment on the city of Gaza Tuesday.

"Not because I do not support resistance but because Israel's reaction is always bigger and more destructive.

"Our rockets cause fear or kill one; their missiles and bombs wipe out whole families and destroy buildings," he said.

The bombardments by the armed wing of Hamas and other groups have certainly caused fear and distress in Israel, with towns such as Sderot, less than a mile from the Gaza border, crippled by uncertainty and dependent on air-raid sirens.

Hamas' longer-range rockets -- smuggled, Soviet-designed Grads and Katyushas -- can reach 40 km, putting larger Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod in range.

MIXED RESULTS

"I urge Hamas to stop the rockets," said Umm Mohammed, a mother visiting her son in hospital in Gaza. She also preferred not to use her formal, full name.

"They are not going to beat Israel today, they can do it some other time. They need to prepare themselves better."

Yet mixed with the concern that the rocket fire may be doing more harm than good for Palestinians is a sense of pride that Palestinian militants have managed to develop a weapon that causes Israel so much consternation and disruption.

In the first intifada, or uprising, against Israel in the late 1980s, militants depended on stones, gunfire and petrol bombs to attack Israelis. In the second intifada that started in late 2000, suicide bombings were a more common threat.

That threat has not gone away, but the lockdown of Gaza and the concrete and steel security barrier around the West Bank make it far more difficult for suicide bombers to enter Israel. Instead, long-range rockets have emerged as a weapon of choice.

"Rockets have terrorized the Israelis," said Hani, 25.

"Name me one Arab state that has ever in history fired a missile into Ashdod or Yavneh, apart from Iraq," he asked.

"Even if Gaza was wiped off the map, history will write in golden letters that some thousand Gazans fought the strongest army in the Middle East."

That pride in the militants' rocket-firing exploits extends even to those who question their ultimate effectiveness. As one man said Tuesday, imagining developments far beyond Qassams: "I wish we could have a nuclear bomb to drop on Tel Aviv."

(Editing by Luke Baker and Alastair Macdonald)