MIDDLE EAST TRIP

In Israel, Family Details Attacks for McCain

As Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) watches, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lays his hand on the ancient stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.
As Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) watches, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lays his hand on the ancient stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site. (By David Silverman -- Getty Images)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

SDEROT, Israel, March 19 -- The Qasam rocket crashed through the kitchen ceiling just seconds after the sirens sounded in this town overlooking the Gaza Strip, homeowner Pinhas Amar explained to Sen. John McCain.

Amar, 48, and his children were in the living room three months ago when the sirens screamed, signaling that an attack from the Palestinian territory was on the way. They ran to a narrow, windowless hallway. His disabled wife, Aliza, was too slow, and the exploding rocket peppered her with shrapnel.

On Wednesday, the blue afternoon sky was clear through the 10-foot hole in the red-tile roof as McCain (Ariz.) arrived on an official visit. It was intended to demonstrate to the Republican presidential nominee the tension of daily life near the Palestinian border.

Here, Amar explained, such attacks are part of the routine, with rockets coming sometimes three or four times a day.

"Every day, all day, we don't have any time," Amar said. "It can be the morning, the afternoon, the night. You are running like a mouse . . . almost every day. You can get two to three days of quiet. Then after that . . . it making you crazy."

That was just the message senior Israeli officials hoped to impart to the man who might be America's next president. McCain arrived at the small house after a helicopter tour with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- echoing a similar helicopter trip taken in 1998 by the governor of Texas at the time, George W. Bush.

McCain was in Israel as part of a seven-day congressional trip to the Middle East and Europe with his close allies, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

As the group left, McCain turned to Amar and said: "I'm sorry this happened to you. We'll try to see that it doesn't happen again."

As McCain finished two days of high-level meetings in Israel, he made it clear Wednesday that he supports a continued U.S. effort to help Israel make peace with its neighbors, even as he takes a hard line against negotiations with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

"It's very clear that the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is committed to the extermination of the state of Israel. That's their stated goal," McCain said. "It's very difficult to negotiate with an organization that is dedicated to your extinction."

McCain confirmed that he had had a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier in the day, McCain met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; Binyamin Netanyahu, the head of the conservative Likud Party; and Ehud Olmert, the country's prime minister.

What was supposed to be a somber pilgrimage to the Western Wall on Wednesday morning was marred by an unruly mob of Israeli photographers, police and tourists, who threw punches at one other as they engulfed Mc Cain.

McCain was not hurt but appeared rattled by the spasm of violence. A crush of people surrounded his group as they briefly touched the towering wall at the base of the Temple Mount, where the Second Temple stood until its destruction nearly 2,000 years ago.

The senators placed notes in the cracks between the ancient stones. McCain declined through a spokesman to reveal what his note said.


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