In southern Israel, Gaza rockets destroy woman's home for the second time

By Emily Rose

ASHKELON, Israel (Reuters) -Miriam Karen's home in Ashkelon was hit by Palestinian rockets for the second time in five years this week, during cross-border barrages from Gaza that remain a frightening ordeal for people in southern Israel despite years of experience.

"You always think, it won't happen to me, but to me it happened," the 79-year-old said among a pile of rubble that had been her front yard.

More than 48 hours of violence between Israel the Gaza Strip have left civilians on both sides of the border wondering when the latest flare-up will end.

Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 25 Palestinians in Gaza, including senior members of the militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, as well as women and children. In response, Islamic Jihad has fired more than 500 rockets towards Israel, sending one and a half million Israelis to shelters, according to the military.

When a rocket is fired it sets off sirens and phone alerts in the area projected to be hit. Those near Gaza have as little as 15 seconds to find shelter.

Israel's Iron Dome air defence system has intercepted most of the rockets. But during an interception, mass shards of metal and debris from the splintered rockets are sent flying into the air, which can be deadly, so residents are instructed to enter saferooms or shelters for protection.

Iron Dome is also not a guarantee, so 30%-60% of residents in smaller communities near Gaza have been evacuated, according to Israeli officials. Underlining the risk, a house in the town of Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, was hit on Thursday, killing one person, the first fatality in Israel.

In Ashkelon, a city about 12 km from the border, the fear remains.

"It's become routine," said Karen's neighbour, Carmela Halabiya, who saw the house crumble and burn. "I can't calm down, I'm tense, it's terrifying.

"I left the house for a memorial but otherwise I just stay home, I won't go out." she said. "I wish there were an end to this but I don't see a future, I don't think this will ever end."

Many apartments and houses in Israel are now built with special reinforced rooms that offer some protection, though city officials have urged the government to do more to help.

After Karen's home was hit the first time five years ago, she built a shelter which may have saved her life on Wednesday night when she was making dinner and heard the air raid siren. She immediately ran inside and heard a loud explosion.

Everything went up in flames and when she opened the door, she saw smoke, the remains of her bathroom and scattered glass while her car was on fire in the driveway.

"I think that in every house in the state of Israel today there should be a shelter," she said.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Nick Macfie)