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Living at Gaza's edge grows perilous, again

The Israeli town Sderot has been hit by dozens of Palestinian rockets over the past week.

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Ask any kid in this sleepy town near the Gaza Strip what scares them the most, and they're likely to say shachar adom. When the garbled Hebrew words meaning red dawn come over Sderot's public address system, there are about 15 seconds to take cover before makeshift rockets fired by Palestinian militants touch down.

"The children are frightened. There are big kids wetting their beds. Others are taking relaxation pills," says Sima Hadad, a mother of three who kept her children home from school and demonstrated against the Israeli government on Tuesday. Like Ms. Hadad, many here say the Israeli government hasn't responded forcefully enough to the uptick of Palestinian rocket fire since eight Gazans were killed on a beach last Friday.

Since then, this blue collar community of 24,000 has absorbed dozens of salvos as the flare-up between Israel and Hamas grew into near daily attacks from both sides.

And while the number of victims from the crude rockets here is dwarfed by the tally on the Palestinian side, 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack Tuesday, the trauma felt by Sderot and nearby Israeli communities is beginning to recast the policy of unilateral withdrawal. At stake could be the fate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan for a sweeping pullback in the West Bank.

"The disengagement has blown up in the face of residents of Sderot," says Alon Davidi, a Sderot resident who embarked on a hunger strike this week to pressure the government to respond harshly to the rocket attacks. "Every unilateral step will ultimately return as a boomerang without anyone to take responsibility except for ourselves. Today, the world is telling us: You disengaged. Don't come with complaints."

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