Israel Sending Rocket Victims to Europe As 'Ambassadors'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is sending residents of the rocket besieged city of Sderot to Europe to describe their plight, an Israeli official said on Tuesday.

"There is a tendency to minimize the difficulties [in Sderot and elsewhere]," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, is organizing the trip. The Foreign Ministry believes it will help Israel's cause if the international community hears about the plight of "real people" -- the mothers and fathers and others who live under constant threat, Regev said.

"Television is very superficial," Regev said. Although Israelis are suffering on a daily basis, they do not command as much TV coverage as Palestinians getting killed, he said.

Israel has often criticized the European media as being decidedly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

If Israel is forced to take "more comprehensive" military action in the Gaza Strip -- a full-scale ground invasion, for example -- then it wants Europe to understand that such action comes in response to daily aggression from the Palestinians and is not taking place in a vacuum, Regev said.

The first delegation of 40 French-speaking Sderot residents is scheduled to leave on Wednesday for Switzerland, France and Belgium. They plan to meet with reporters, lawmakers, members of the Jewish community and others.

A second delegation of English speakers will travel later to Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Over the last two weeks, Palestinian militants, mostly from Hamas, have launched 270 rockets at southern Israeli communities, 15 of them during the last 24 hours the army said Tuesday morning.

Oshri Oz, 36, whose wife is pregnant with their second child, was killed on Sunday while driving in Sderot, when a rocket fell near his car. He was the second Israeli fatality in a week from the rocket fire and the tenth since 2004.

The rockets have scored direct hits on a number of homes, two school classrooms, a synagogue and a gas station since May 15.

Nevertheless, Israel is often criticized for its retaliatory actions or for what some call its "disproportionate" response to the attacks.

Overnight, Israel bombed a Hamas post and training camp in the Gaza Strip, an army spokesman said.

Israeli troops also shot and killed two gunmen in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, Palestinian sources said.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Sunday that 59 Palestinians have been killed in recent Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Israel must be prepared to deal with the situation in Gaza as a "long-term conflict."

Officials and military experts have said that the only way to stop the firing of Kassam rockets at southern Israeli communities, to deal a blow to the terrorist infrastructure there and to end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, is to mount a full-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

But Olmert, still smarting from last year's failures against Hizballah in Lebanon, is hesitant to commit himself to such an operation, which could see Israeli troops mired in Gaza for a long time.

Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israel's Shin Bet (secret service), told lawmakers on Sunday that Hamas is bracing for an Israeli ground assault.

They are training snipers and suicide bombers and booby-trapping tunnels, said Diskin. He also said that Hamas is copying the tactics of Hizballah in southern Lebanon by increasingly firing rockets from built-up residential areas.

The current round of fighting started several weeks ago, when Hamas stepped up its rocket attacks on Israel in an attempt to stop inter-Palestinian fighting. Hamas is eager to draw Israel into the fight, to unite Palestinians in their hatred of Israel.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday urged militant groups to stop attacking Israel and accept a plan for renewing a ceasefire with Israel, the Associated Press reported.

Terror groups want the truce extended to cover the West Bank but Israel has rejected the idea, saying that militant groups will use the period of calm to build their military strength.

The West Bank is much closer -- a few miles -- from major Israeli population centers.

Overnight, the army said it had arrested 20 wanted militants in the West Bank, including four wanted terrorists from the Tanzim, which is part of Abbas' Fatah faction.

One of those arrested, Jamal Abdel Tirawi, allegedly supplied weapons to terror cells and directed and dispatched terrorists for attacks, including a 2002 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

If Israel were to enter into a truce with the Palestinian groups, it would be prevented from carrying out such arrest operations.

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