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In Israel, embattled Sderot comes back to life after rocket barrages of Gaza war

Sderot, Israel, was practically a ghost town a year ago, as daily rocket attacks from Gaza drove residents away. Today, it's rebuilding and its residents are looking toward 2010 with some hope.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer / December 31, 2009

Jewish youths hold flags and signs during the Sderot Rally for Hope near the southern town of Sderot, Thursday. The rally marked one year since the start of a three-week war in Gaza.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

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Sderot, Israel

It's raining cats and dogs in Sderot, but that's a welcome development. This time last year it was raining Qassam rockets by virtue of the fact that Sderot is the closest population center to northern Gaza, bringing it within range of Palestinian militants.

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Sderot bore the brunt of rocket attacks during Israel's 2008 offensive in Gaza - 50 to 60 rockets per week were fired at the small southern city at the height of the conflict, out of a total of 800 fired at communities all over southern Israel during the three-week war. About half the city's residents left, while the other half spent their days rushing in and out of bomb shelters in the few seconds' warning they got from the town's alarm system.

Today, the rattled little city that was a ghost town a year ago is coming back to life. A new shopping mall is going up, and a large sports complex opened a few months ago, thanks largely to donor aid. Concern for the city's threatened residents that grew over the past decade has brought extra help, to the point where Sderot now has better community, educational, and recreational services than most other southern "development towns." The term "development towns" refers to the effort to bring Israelis to peripheral areas of the country the government wanted to see settled.

Now, demand for apartments here far outweighs supply. Even though the price of an average small apartment here has doubled, according to real estate agents, it's still far cheaper to buy a home here than almost anywhere else in the region. "There's a great demand for apartments, because you can't get these prices anywhere else in the area. There aren't enough apartments to sell, and that means people want to live here and invest here," says Alex Aviram, a real estate agent.

"But I wouldn't call it a boom just yet," says Mr. Aviram. "We know quite well what it is to live with the boom, day after day," he says, making a joke out of life under rocket fire – and the sound of a Qassam rocket landing.

Born in Uzbekistan, Aviram moved to Israel 20 years ago, and in 1995 came to Sderot, long before it was considered a front-line community. He says that Adam, his five-year-old son, has suffered from growing up under the threat of rockets and the constant sounding of alarms. The situation does, he admits, make some potential clients think twice about moving here.

Dark humor

Dark humor, it seems, is a specialty in Sderot. At the Chopin hair salon in the center of town, the owners gave a model a Qassam-shaped hairdo and have featured a poster of it as their signature advertisement on the front door.

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