Israel, Gaza rebels trade fire, accusations as Egypt works for cease fire

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Israelis in Ashkelton tried to go about their business on Monday as Israel braced for more retaliation from Hamas. (Photo by Daniella Cheslow.

Business was slow at the outdoor market in Ashkelon Monday.

Usually, the lunch hour is pretty busy, said a Russian-born Israeli woman who gave her name as Ella. She runs a little fast food place. Ella said people in Ashkelon, which sits on the northern border of the Gaza Strip, were spooked by the rocket strikes, even though none have actually landed in town during the latest attacks.

A fishmonger named Roni said he was supportive of what Israel is doing in Gaza. He said killing the Palestinian leader of the Popular Resistance Committees last week was probably a good thing, even if it sparked four straight days of rocket attacks and air strikes.

By Monday evening local time, 23 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli attacks, 18 of them were said to be militants and five civilians, including a 65 year-old man, his daughter and a couple of teenagers.

In Israel, 35 people are reportedly injured, one of them seriously. There are signs of hope though. Egyptian diplomats announced Monday they had negotiated a cease fire, and there are signs it will hold. Just seven projectiles, causing little or no damage, were fired out of Gaza into Israel after the cease fire time.

The mayor of Ashkelon, Benny Vaknin, held a meeting with military, police and emergency authorities Monday.

One of their top concerns actually grew out of the recent success of the Israeli “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. According to the Israeli military, the anti-missile batteries have stopped something like three dozen incoming rockets in mid-flight since Friday.

Two rockets managed to breach these defenses and landed in the city Beersheba yesterday. But Vaknin said people in southern Israel are overly confident. They’re not taking cover fast enough when the air strike sirens go off.

Tens of thousands of kids in southern Israel had classes canceled Monday. City officials in Ashkelon are trying to figure out how many students they can fit into the limited number of bomb-proofed buildings in town, so they can keep some school activities going.

Some children without classes had to go to work with their parents. The parents are essential city employees who had come to work because they run emergency services for Ashkelon.

The kids had “class” in the basement bomb shelter. They were treated to a live show put on by a DJ and a clown.

The official in charge of Ashkelon kindergartens told me she thought the situation would probably calm down soon. In a few days, she hopes.

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