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In Southern Israel, Residents Doubt That Rocket Fire Can Be Stopped

Noam Yakov is one of those civilians. But he said he does not believe he will ever see that day, no matter how much blood is shed by both sides during the fighting in Gaza. "If they stop, then Hamas won't exist," said the 67-year-old Sderot resident. "They claim that this is their land, and they want it back."

Hamas and its allies generally say their attacks are in retaliation for Israeli strikes on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, territory Israeli forces occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. In its founding charter, Hamas calls for Israel's destruction.

Peled, a civilian, worked with a police bomb-disposal team Sunday to dig a rocket from a farmer's field, where it had burrowed a two-foot-deep hole. Gaza was visible in the distance, nothing more than a few gray specks set against a clear blue sky. Drones buzzed overhead. An artillery unit launched shells that shook the earth.

"It's a small one," Peled said of the rocket when the team pried it from the ground.

Painted dark green with four tail fins, the rocket was no more than 18 inches long. Peled said he had seen much worse.

As he spoke, Sderot's alert system sounded across the city. More rockets were on the way.

Peled and the disposal team jogged to an adjacent drainage ditch and lay down in the dirt to wait. Thirty seconds later, his radio barked the news that all was clear.

"No Qassams," he said, brushing the soil off his jeans and smiling. "It was a mistake."

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), on a visit to Sderot, had to duck into a bomb shelter during the same false alarm.

Despite the risk of rockets, Israel has made Sderot a must-see stop for foreign leaders in the past several years. The government has set up an office here to distribute information to visiting journalists, and Israeli politicians have frequently trekked to Sderot over the past week to give news conferences.

Residents say they have grown accustomed to the frequent alerts -- triggered by a high-tech surveillance system -- in which loudspeakers broadcast the words "red color."

Unlike during the Lebanon war in 2006, when Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah forced the populations of entire towns in the north to flee, most residents of Sderot and other southern cities near Gaza have chosen to ride out this war. In general, the rockets being used by Hamas are far less potent and far more inaccurate than those Hezbollah fired by the thousands into the Galilee region.

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