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Gaza attacks triggers Israeli exodus from border


JERUSALEM (AP) - Tens of thousands of Israelis have fled their homes in communities along the border with the Gaza Strip, reflecting growing fear and frustration as the war with Hamas drags on with no end in sight.

With the school year fast approaching, the government began offering assistance to residents Monday in the first large-scale voluntary evacuation in nearly eight weeks of fighting.

Officials estimate that 70 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the farming communities along the Gaza border have left, including hundreds on Monday.

Fields that once yielded vegetables and flowers are barren and pockmarked by Palestinian mortar shells. Streets are empty and most homes eerily silent.

Missiles Hit Gaza As Israelis Evacuate Border

The fighting has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials, leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

The death toll on the Israeli side has been much lower, largely because of Israel's network of air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile-defense system.

Yet Israel's defenses have been largely ineffective against short-range mortar fire - a deficiency underscored when a 4-year-old boy was killed Friday by a Palestinian mortar shell.

"The community is very close to the border, and we have almost no warning of incoming fire," said Elazar Ashtivkar, a 30-year-old father of four who left Nahal Oz, the scene of the deadly attack, several weeks ago with his family.

He said the family is now staying in a nearby kibbutz, where he has 15 to 20 seconds to get to a shelter, which he said is an improvement.

He said nearly all of Nahal Oz's roughly 400 residents have left. Only a few workers in charge of taking care of the cows along with some security personnel remain, he said.

"The agricultural fields were destroyed. There is nothing now," he said.

He said he will return as soon as it is safe. "We just want quiet. We don't want to be scared when our kids go to school," he said.

The military says Gaza militants have fired at least 1,400 mortars on the border communities since the fighting began.

It is not the first time residents have left their homes during the fighting. Several weeks ago, heavily armed Palestinian militants tunneled into their communities from Gaza, terrifying residents and sparking an exodus.

Only a few people sat down for lunch at the normally bustling dining room at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha on Monday. The community was mostly devoid of people. Children's swings swayed in the wind on the empty playground. Homes bore the marks of shrapnel from Palestinian mortars.

Elena Glass was among the few residents who decided to stay.

"We are not going to move because this is our house and we have to defend this place," she said. "I understand all the families that moved out because of the children, but someone has to stay here. But it is not simple. I think of my children all the time because they are working outside without shelter."

The government this week offered to help anxious Israelis close to the war zone leave their homes, the first time it has sponsored a large-scale evacuation.

"It is their right to leave, and we will assist them with temporary solutions," Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in a TV interview Sunday.

But he stressed the evacuations were voluntary: "The state of Israel will not run away from terror organizations. It fights terror organizations."

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, hailed news of the Israeli exodus. The group's spokesman in Gaza, Mushir al-Masri, said the Israelis will not be allowed to return unless Hamas "allows it."

Israeli education officials said the evacuated children will be absorbed by area schools. But Tamir Idan, a regional council head in southern Israel, said schools will not open as usual next week if rocket fire persists.

The fighting has caused even more disruption for students in Gaza, where U.N. schools have being used to shelter several hundred thousand people. Officials have delayed the start of classes, which were supposed to begin on Sunday.

Throughout the fighting, Israel has charged that Hamas has exploited civilian installations to fire rockets. The military said Monday that the mortar shell that killed the 4-year-old Israeli boy last week was fired several meters (yards) away from a school in Gaza.

The Israeli military said it carried out at least 65 airstrikes Monday, targeting a mosque it said was used to store weapons and another it said militants used as a meeting point. The military also said that Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel.

Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed, including a 42-year woman hit by tank fire. One Israeli was wounded by Palestinian fire.

The latest exchanges came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Israeli military campaign in Gaza could go into September.

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dwtomczyk August 25 2014 at 1:11 PM

Hamas has no regard for human life.

Flag Reply +34 rate up
9 replies
reharris366 August 25 2014 at 1:31 PM

Israel take the gloves off and eliminate your enemy.

Flag Reply +33 rate up
9 replies
hwlndrbrt August 25 2014 at 1:11 PM

Truce, truce, truce! Listen Israel: God is with YOU. Carry on. Continue the fight. This won't be over until ISRAEL says so. All Hamas wants to do is pull the chain of the Israeli citizens. Well, Hamas came to the right place. Let 'em have it, Israel! God bless you. Long Lilve Israel.

Flag Reply +30 rate up
6 replies
aaldrew August 25 2014 at 1:48 PM

Israel has shown restraint in the past but will only take so much.

Flag Reply +28 rate up
3 replies
dennis August 25 2014 at 2:12 PM

If the Palestinian people do not rise up against Hamas and throw them out of office, this will never stop. They (the Palestinian people) are being held hostage and consequently paying the price. "End Hamas Control Now" should be the cry of the Palestinian people

Flag Reply +28 rate up
5 replies
kiick23 August 25 2014 at 2:58 PM

In the end Hamas will cause the total destruction of Gaza. No people on earth were cursed with worse leadership than the people of Hamastan. Yet it's the people of Gazstan who voted for the government of Hamastan making them collectively guilty. Personally I have no sympathy for these people, young, old, women, children or their dogs. Eventually they'll have to be neutered and spayed so they can't reproduce and just die out.

Flag Reply +24 rate up
3 replies
shevon August 25 2014 at 1:43 PM

If their men hide behind woman and children, woman and children will be killed. Besides this war, and unfortunately in a war woman and children also die. Women are suicide bombers nowadays so who cares, when they kill enough men they will send the woman.

Flag Reply +24 rate up
5 replies
buddwhyzr August 25 2014 at 2:05 PM

Same story different day. Hamas fires rockets that 99% of which hit nothing, Israel responds with decimating another part of Gaza. You can write the same story for next month...........

Flag Reply +15 rate up
9 replies
gtpic August 25 2014 at 1:32 PM

why no peace talk in egypt about the slaughter of 200,000 muslims ? ahhh they dont like jews whipping arabs because thats what arabs have been doing to jews for 1500 years

Flag Reply +12 rate up
5 replies
skipm123 August 25 2014 at 11:13 PM

“Nazi criminals”

When I spoke to him, Hajo denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations that the large demonstrations against Israel’s attacks on Gaza are an expression of an increasing hatred against Israel.

“If we want to stay really human beings, we must get up and call the Zionists what they are: Nazi criminals,” Meyer said. The hate of the Jews by the Germans “was less deeply rooted than the hate of the Palestinians by the Israeli Jews,” he observed. “The brainwashing of the Jewish Israeli populations is going on for over sixty years. They cannot see a Palestinian as a human being.”

While discussing Europe’s response to Israel’s policies, Hajo said that Europe should respond with “a much more large scale boycott of Israel” than a ban on settlement products. If we Europeans pretend to hold high the flag of humanity with what is happening in Gaza, Israel should be outcasted by us.”

Flag Reply +10 rate up
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