August 9, 2006

Panic is the mood at a northern Israeli shelter

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

ACRE, Israel (Reuters) - Moran Turjeman clutches her
father's arm as a siren wails outside a bomb shelter to warn
Israelis that Hizbollah's rockets are flying from Lebanon.

A few seconds later a thunderous boom is heard, then a
louder explosion shakes the dingy chamber packed with two dozen
people in Israel's biblical northern coastal city of Acre.

"Oh no! We've been hit? What are we going to do?" a woman
shouts, and a few others cry. Hannah Turjeman, mother of
15-year-old Moran, clutches a reporter's arm and winces. She
and her daughter have barely slept in days, her husband Meir

Within moments it turns out that these latest rockets fired
by Hizbollah guerrillas from across the border have slammed
into a schoolyard about a kilometer away, and no one has been

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis living within range of
Hizbollah's rockets live in similar fear. Most not living in
bomb shelters dash toward them every time the sirens sound.

The 3,300 rockets rained on Israel over four weeks has
paralyzed life in the northern third of the country, and the
army's failure to stop them is a key reason behind Israel's
latest decision to expand its Lebanon offensive.

Israel has inflicted far greater losses in Lebanon, where
at least 1,005 people have been killed. The fighting that began
after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight
in a July 12 cross-border raid has killed 101 Israelis. Israeli
air strikes on Lebanon have displaced some 900,000 people.

The sense of dread from rockets for Israelis reaching
further into their country than ever before is a key driving
force behind the war against Hizbollah guerrillas.

Acre, a working class town of 50,000 people, known for the
scenic Crusader-era fortress that helped fend off Napoleon
Bonaparte's forces 200 years ago, has borne a large brunt of
the rocket attacks from Lebanon.

Some 80 rockets have slammed into Acre's streets, fields
and buildings, most recently killing five people last Thursday,
one of the larger single death tolls. Dozens more have been


For many residents, particularly the elderly and the people
who can't afford to get out of town, the tension "has become
intolerable," Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri told Reuters.

"People can't breathe anymore," Lankri says of the
thousands huddled in more than 700 shelters across the city.
"How long can you sit in a shelter? Many have been there for
four weeks."

Lankri says the city, about 18 kms (11.5 miles) from the
Lebanese border, has never come under rocket fire before.
"Before this, the only explosion you would hear in this town
was the occasional bursting of a tire," he says.

A mixed Jewish-Arab town, Acre was also spared much of the
brunt of six years of Palestinian-Israeli violence, though its
largely tourist-based economy has suffered from that conflict.

The government has stepped up efforts to temporarily
evacuate civilians from rocket-struck zones. Thousands have
been taken for brief trips to central Israel.

Lankri says only 10 percent of his city's residents have
left, and he has asked for more government assistance so others
could take a break.

Few in Israel favor a complete evacuation of the northern
region at this time, fearing this would look like defeat.

At the shelter, in one of Acre's poorer neighborhoods,
there is some talk of getting away but more worry that Israel
hasn't eradicated the rocket threat. They want the army to
battle on, hoping to avoid another stint in the bunkers later.

"We will be terribly disappointed if there are no results.
Let them finish off Hizbollah. As hard as this is for us, we
support the war. We want to see this organization destroyed,"
says Hannah Hemo, 58.

Then Hemo goes back to biting her nails.