Israelis forced to shelter in safe rooms as Gaza strikes intensify

26 March 2019, 20:05 | Updated: 26 March 2019, 21:40

Israeli troops and armoured vehicles lined up in a field close to the border with Gaza.

Just one example of the military build-up ahead of what could be another night of Israeli airstrikes against the militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian enclave, as well as fresh Palestinian rocket attacks back onto Israel.

Israeli communities living along the border told me they fear the worst.

Moran Freibach, 48, who lives in a kibbutz, said he was cooking a barbecue for his wife and four of his five children on Monday night when a rocket warning siren started up.

The family ran inside and took shelter in two iron-enforced "safe rooms".

Each house in the Nahal Oz kibbutz has such a room because the rocket siren goes off about once every couple of weeks - a tempo that intensifies whenever tensions rise with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group.

"This place, 95% of the time, is heaven, (but) 5% of the time - this is 5% of the time," Mr Freibach said, gesturing to the safe room used by his children, which has four mattresses and duvets on the floor.

A school building, described by residents as a kindergarten, but which caters for children aged seven to 10, has a specially built roof and walls of thick, heavy concrete.

A second building used by older children is surrounded by concrete blast walls painted with colourful pictures, to try to lighten the mood.

The children and their parents are trained to race for shelter the moment the siren sounds.

Communities further back from the border have 15 seconds to reach a safe place but in this commune, just a few hundred metres from Gaza, they literally have a couple of seconds until the rockets land.

The last time there was a full-blown conflict between the two sides was in 2014.

The rocket fire around the Israeli border communities became so bad that a number of families moved away temporarily.

One child, a four-year-old, was killed in an attack - a death that families remember whenever there is a new rise in violence.

In the town of Sderot there is commotion around a house where a rocket fired from Gaza overnight on Monday punched through an upstairs wall.

The munition failed to explode and caused only minimal damage, to the relief of the father and two grown-up sons who were in the house at the time, according to national police spokesman Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld.

I asked him whether he thought further rocket attacks were likely.

"Security assessments are being made," he said.

"It's relatively quiet but things can change so quickly. If a rocket siren goes off right now we have to take cover within 15 seconds, that's all."