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Israel's Bedouin Arabs caught in middle as rockets fly in both directions

Residents of the Bedouin Arab town of Rahat are divided between worry for themselves as rockets from Gaza land nearby and worries for their relatives in Gaza facing an Israeli barrage.

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His wife's uncle lives in Gaza City. "My wife is afraid first for her children, then for her relatives," he explains.

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Asked whether he blames Hamas for his children's ordeal, Mr. al Tory responds, ''Israel and Hamas are both no good. They don't want the interests of their peoples.'' But he faulted Israel for, in his view, causing a surge in Hamas attacks by assassinating Jaabari.

Still, he condemned the rocketing of Beersheba. ''There is no difference between Arab and Jew. All are human.''

Mayor Faiz Abu Cahiban believes Israeli leaders ordered the assassination of Jaabari to score popularity ahead of the January parliamentary election, but he is also critical of Hamas. ''If it rules Gaza, it has to control all the groups there,'' he says, implying that Hamas should have reined in the factions responsible for rockets.

''We now have a paralyzed country with missiles on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is impossible to destroy Hamas, and Hamas cannot destroy the state of Israel, so it is necessary to sit down and to respect an agreement,'' says Abu Cahiban, who belongs to the moderate wing of the Islamic Movement, which holds a seat in the Israeli parliament. 

Looking at the rockets instead of taking shelter

He is particularly worried about the fate of 5,000 Rahat residents who live in corrugated metal huts and are thus the most exposed in the event of a missile strike. 

When the warning siren sounds, many people head into the streets and look up at the sky, rather than take shelter, Abu Cahiban says.

"People are afraid of missiles but their curiosity overcomes this," he says in his office. "It could be that they have a gut feeling that the missile couldn't be aimed at Rahat, that it's aimed at a Jewish community, but this is a mistake."

The municipality is using mosque loudspeakers to press the point that ''missiles are liable to fall in Rahat'' and that people should take shelter when the sirens sound, he says.

The park across the street from the Rahat municipality appeared tranquil at first yesterday, with mothers looking on as their children played, but they were poised to run across the street to a shelter if the siren sounded.

"It's certainly hard. My son asks me why are there sirens and why is there no kindergarten?'' says a young woman named Hind, who covers her hair like all of the women in Rahat. She asked not to be identified by her last name, worried her husband would object to her speaking with a journalist.

"Of course I'm afraid of the missiles. Of course I'm afraid for my relatives in Gaza. I spoke to them two days ago. They have no water, no electricity, no shelter, less food, they can't sleep, there is no school, and 24 hours a day they hear the explosions. And they have no early warning sirens. They just hear the bombs.''

''I told them to endure and to pray that peace will come,'' Hind says.


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