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Israel shelling turns Gaza farms into danger zone

Written by: Staff
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BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza, Apr 18 (Reuters) Hwaida Hamouda looked at the uprooted cucumber plants and broken water pipes on her farmland in northern Gaza, shrapnel from Israeli artillery shells scattered across the ground.

As fast as she could -- in case of fresh strikes -- the Palestinian woman began cleaning up.

''Every time shells hit, we think the ground will split underneath us,'' said Hamouda, 42, wearing a traditional villager's black dress and clutching ruptured water pipes.

''When the first shell hits we know to duck and crawl away as other shells fall in our field all around us.'' Israel has intensified air strikes and shelling of Gaza this month, targeting areas from where Palestinian militants have stepped up the launching of rockets into the Jewish state.

Israel decided, however, not to authorise military action against the Hamas-led Palestinian government after a suicide bombing killed nine people in Tel Aviv yesterday.

The military strikes across Gaza have killed 20 Palestinians this month, mainly militants, but also civilians.

Hamouda, who works the field near Beit Lahiya with her family, put their losses at nearly 3,000 dollar from the shelling, the heaviest since Israel pulled Jewish settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip last year.

But while Hamouda has ventured out, dozens of farmers around the town have deserted their land, now pock-marked by shells.

''Fifty people used to make a living working here,'' said farmer Emad Abu Samra. ''Now nobody does.'' The Israeli military says it is not targeting civilians and has warned residents in some northern Gaza areas, from where most of the rockets are fired, to leave their homes.

On April 10, a shell killed a 7-year-old girl when it hit a house outside Beit Lahiya.

The makeshift Palestinian rockets cause panic but few casualties. Captain Ishai David, an Israeli army spokesman, said militants used civilian areas on purpose to fire them.

''We regret these (civilian) deaths. We will continue to say that time and again, but that unfortunately is the price the Palestinians are paying for the terrorist activity,'' he said.

MORE REUTERS OM RAI1751

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