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Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza's rockets

A visit to a rocketmaker shows a reliance on very basic materials. The range of rockets fired at Israel has slowly been growing.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 15, 2008

Exploded: An Israeli policeman removed remains of a rocket fired from Lebanon that landed in Shlomi on Jan. 8. Rockets fired from Gaza have traumatized Israeli border towns such as Sderot.

YARON KAMINSKY/AP

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Gaza City, Gaza

After a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on Jan. 3 landed 17 kilometers (10 miles) inside Israel – deeper than any has penetrated so far – the Israeli press was full of speculation of where the weapon may have come from and how it got into Gaza.

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The Israeli army first said the missile was made in Russia. Later it said it had come from Iran. Israeli officials said the weapon was further evidence that the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza needed to be closed. Israel's Yediot Aharanot newspaper quoted an unnamed Israeli security official alleging the rocket had been smuggled into Gaza by boat.

But lost in the discussion about the origins of the rocket, which fell harmlessly near a hotel on the northern edge of the city of Ashkelon, was a simple fact.

The vast majority of the thousands of rockets that have been fired at Israel from Gaza over the past few years have been made inside the territory. Their range has slowly improved over time as the rocketmakers have experimented with new designs and fuel mixtures. In 2006, a rocket fired from Gaza landed 15 kilometers inside Israel.

Both Israel and President George Bush – who made his first visit to the country last week – have said that Mr. Bush's peace push will fail if the rocket fire from Gaza doesn't stop. But given domestic production of the rockets and makers' ability to fashion them from crude materials, it doesn't appear likely that any blockade can shut them off.

"It's like any other skill … the more you practice, the better you get,'' says one of Gaza's rocketmakers, a heavily bearded 26-year-old as he sits in his workshop in Gaza City. "I'm experimenting with new ideas all the time, and sometimes I get together with other engineers to trade ideas."

This man is a member of one of Gaza's Popular Resistance Committees, and is loosely affiliated with Hamas. He says he's been building rockets for almost five years, and practically glows with pride as he shows off his workshop.

It's a very basic affair at the top floor of one of Gaza's cinder-block apartment buildings. There are sacks of potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, a common fertilizer; sugar; a few machine tools; smaller quantities of gunpowder; and small rocket bodies in various stages of assembly stacked in one corner.

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