Hilltop provides Israeli men front-row view of Gaza rocket attacks

On a hilltop overlooking the Palestinian territory, Israelis meet to watch the conflict but not to gloat over casualties on the other side

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 12:49am

Sitting on a leather sofa in flip-flops and shorts, smoking and eating snacks, a group of middle-aged Israeli men look like they are watching a soccer match on television, but they are perched atop a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip watching a very different kind of contest.

The buzz of drones flying overhead is interrupted by the blast of rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave. Surrounded by camera crews who rush to catch the action, the men watch for the distant explosions of Israeli air strikes, occasionally offering their commentary on the fighting.

"I don't come up here to cheer at their troubles," Yochanan Cohen, 57, said of his Gaza neighbours. "I'm sick of sitting at home all day. Everything is closed. People are scared, many have left and those who stayed won't go out."

Cohen lives in Sderot, a town near Gaza frequently targeted by Palestinian militants' rocket salvoes. His house was struck by a projectile just a week ago, he said.

"I'm sure the simple folk in Gaza just want peace and quiet, like we do. I don't want to see houses destroyed here and I don't want to see houses destroyed there," he said. "But Israel needs to go in there once and for all and get rid of the terrorists and all their weapons."

The Israeli military yesterday dropped flyers and sent text messages warning 100,000 people in northeastern Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an air campaign targeting "terror sites and operatives" in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City.

So far, the Israeli air campaign has killed 213 Palestinians, including four children yesterday on the beach in Gaza City. Meanwhile, rockets fired by Gaza militant groups claimed their first Israeli life on Tuesday, with half a dozen other Israelis wounded since the fighting begun. At least 259 houses have been reduced to rubble by Israeli attacks.

Israel's missile interception system has shot down most rockets aimed at populated areas, minimising casualties.

But one rocket landed by an apartment building on Monday, slightly wounding an eight-year-old boy, in the port of Ashdod.

Surrounded by broken furniture and glass scattered across the living room of the damaged flat, the boy's great-grandmother swept up the debris. "How much longer can this situation go on?" said Naftali Danielov, a relative.

Like many Israelis living in southern towns repeatedly hit by rockets, Danielov wants to see tougher military action.

"We are not afraid. We are willing to sit here and take it as long as it takes for them [Israel] to end it, not in a year or two or 10. Enough already," Danielov said.

One of the Sderot residents who had spent the night on the hilltop sofa seemed sceptical that the overnight lull he had just witnessed would last for long. "OK, it's over," he said as he headed home. "See you again next year."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse