Welcome to the Israeli town that Bush forgot

The missiles that rain down on Sderot give the lie to Mideast peace, says Philip Jacobson

BY Philip Jacobson LAST UPDATED AT 00:00 ON Fri 18 Jan 2008

There was never any chance that President Bush's whistle-stop tour of the Middle East would include a trip to the little Israeli town of Sderot, yet it would have been an instructive, if scary, experience for him.

Residents would have enjoyed showing him around the 'Qassam graveyard' containing the rusting and twisted remains of hundreds of primitive rockets fired at Sderot by Palestinian militants just a mile away in the Gaza Strip. They could have told him of the terror of being caught in the open when early warning sirens signal that they have no more than 15 seconds to find cover.

It is more than five years since the first Qassams crashed into Sderot: after some 2,000 attacks - most of them timed to catch people going to and from work and during school hours - the town is littered with wrecked buildings and shrapnel-pitted walls.

Assembled in Gaza's backstreet workshops from lengths of drainpipe or lamp posts, the rockets are fuelled by a mix of sugar, alcohol and fertiliser: the 20lb explosive warhead contains scrap metal that becomes lethal shrapnel on impact. The Palestinians overcome the lack of a guidance system by calculating from Israeli media reports where previous rockets have landed and adjusting their angle of launch accordingly.

A visit to Sderot might also have helped Bush to understand that despite Israel's high-tech military armoury - much of it supplied by the US - and the increasing ferocity of its retaliation to Qassam strikes, the Hamas fighters who control Gaza will attempt to derail peace negotiations whenever it suits them.

After his swing through the world's most combustible region, the President sounded optimistic about the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Sderot - where a third of the town's children exhibit classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - could have provided the White House with a reality check: 50 Qassams have hit the town this week alone. · 

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