On 3 September, the second day of the school year, a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip landed near a day care centre for toddlers in the Israeli town of Sderot. Parents in the town promptly met and decided to take their children out of all schools in the town from 5 September.
"We would have closed down the elementary schools as well [immediately], but we needed to give parents time to work out alternatives for their children," said Sasson Sarah, the head of the local parents' committee, explaining the decision.
The committee said it would protest on 5 September in Jerusalem, demanding more protection from the government.
Several children with mental disorders were in a school bus along with 12 toddlers from the day care centre when the rocket landed nearby. They were taken to hospital suffering from shock, medical officials said.
Altogether, seven rockets, dubbed locally Qassams after the version made famous by the Hamas movement's military wing, landed in Sderot on 3 September.
The Islamic Jihad took responsibility, saying they were a "gift" for the new school year.
However, children and their parents could be seen making their way to school early in the morning of 4 September.
Yosef, a second grade pupil, walked with his mother and sister. The trio, recent immigrants from Ethiopia, were nervous as they marched on.
"Last [school] year, Qassams fell near his school. When I heard about the one falling near the toddler centre yesterday, I got so scared," Galat, the mother, said.
"If the rockets fall, I run for cover," said Yosef, demonstrating what he learned from teachers in Sderot, a regular target of militants’ rocket attacks, and only about 800 metres from the Gaza Strip.
"It's frightening to live like this"
Sderot has approximately 3,000 students in grades 1-12 and about another 600 youngsters in kindergartens and pre-schools.
The death toll from the rockets has reached nine, including four children. Some 2,086 have landed in the past two years, officials said, causing anxiety among residents.
"It's frightening to live like this," said Avi Tiger, the chief paramedic at Magen David Adom in Sderot, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross/Red Crescent.
"Don't get me wrong, even we [in the emergency services] are scared," he added.
His teams are always on high alert, he said, because "one time the rocket will hit something big".
Meanwhile, some residents of Gaza are concerned over statements made to Israel's largest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, by Israel’s Vice-Premier Haim Ramon.
"We should announce that for every Qassam fired towards Israel we will stop for periods of time - two to three hours - the supply of electricity, water and fuel to the strip [Gaza]," he said.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak subsequently said he ordered his staff to examine "the operational and legal aspects of steps designed to limit Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip", including measures like those suggested by Ramon. Media reports said most cabinet members would support such steps.
"But, there is no intent to cause serious humanitarian harm to the civilian population in Gaza," a security official told IRIN.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the rocket attacks during a press conference in Ramallah on 4 September.
Three Palestinian children, aged 9-11, all from one extended family, were killed by an Israeli shell in Gaza just last week.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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