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Israel: Rocket Shield Is Deflecting Gaza Attacks

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In the Gaza Strip on Monday, Palestinian families mourned their dead.

Those killed included a 65-year-old farmer who was watering his tomatoes and checking on his greenhouses, his 35-year-old daughter, and a 15-year-old boy.

Israel says Palestinian militants were hiding among the local population and firing rockets from northern Gaza into southern Israel. Palestinians in one Gaza community told NPR that militants had been operating in the area but said the civilians were innocent.

This current round of fighting has claimed more than 20 Palestinian lives since last Friday, most of them militants.

It's the heaviest fighting in months, and it began on Friday when an Israeli strike killed the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group Israel says was planning an attack from Egyptian territory — similar to one last August that left eight Israelis dead.

In response to the Israeli action, several Palestinian militant groups have been firing rockets. Hamas, the radical Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip, has been observing a cease-fire since a major clash with Israel three years ago and is not directly involved in this round of fighting. To date, Israel hasn't targeted Hamas leaders.

Egypt, meanwhile, is trying to broker an end to the hostilities.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told NPR in Gaza that Israel must back down first.

"The ball is in the Israelis' court," he says. "They must stop their aggression."

Israel Credits Iron Dome

Israel says that it will continue and even expand its operation while rockets are falling on Israeli cities. So far, no Israelis have been killed and only a few have been injured — and Israelis say the main reason is the Iron Dome, its rocket defense system.

On a hilltop in southern Israel, a radar is perched facing the Gaza Strip. Nearby is a battery of missiles that intercept anything deemed a threat coming from Gaza.

The Iron Dome has had a 90 percent success rate, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

"This is really the game changer from our point of view, because now, we have the full basket of options," says Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish, an Israeli air defense commander.

"We have attack as an option; we have defense as an option. There were tens of rockets that were aimed at the cities of Israel that were intercepted by the Iron Dome system."

Iron Dome has been viewed with suspicion by some inside the Israeli military, who argued that resources should be allocated for Israel's conventional military capabilities, such as tanks and airplanes. There are only three Iron Dome batteries deployed, but the public is now clamoring for more.

Some Rockets Slip Through

While Iron Dome has been impressive, it's not infallible.

In Ashdod, an Israeli coastal city just outside Gaza, a rocket landed in a residential area on Monday, shattering windows and terrifying the local population.

Luba Boxer lives in an apartment building near the spot where the rocket landed. She says she heard the warning sirens and tried to get to the bomb shelter but there wasn't enough time. Then there was a loud explosion and glass was flying everywhere.

As we spoke, there was a warning of another attack that sent everyone scurrying for the bomb shelters.

After the danger passed, we made our way outside and were told that this time the Iron Dome intercepted the rocket.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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