GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip—The days here begin, literally, with a boom. A window-rattling bang reverberates across the Mediterranean Sea like a sharp thunderclap.
The first one usually jolts people from their sleep around dawn, maybe an hour before the loudspeakers affixed to the mosque minarets crackle to life with the call to morning prayers.
This is the Israeli military's bone-jarring wake up call to the Palestinians, their way of saying: Give us back our abducted soldier.
The unnerving shock waves come from Israeli jets flying high over the Gaza Strip triggering sonic booms as one weapon in the military's psychological war. These days, they are part of the soundtrack of life for the 1.3 million Gaza Strip Palestinians living under siege.
"Why are they doing it exactly?" asked Rana Abdullah, a fourth-grade school teacher as an Israeli patrol boat harmlessly rattled off a few rounds while zipping down the Gaza Strip coast. "It's just a way of telling us: We can get you."
Life in the Gaza Strip these days is a tense chess game as Palestinians wonder if the militants holding Cpl. Gilad Shalit will free the 19-year-old Israeli soldier captured June 24, or if the Israeli military will storm into cities and refugee camps to try and find the captive.
The sonic booms are just one tactic. By mid-morning, the jets usually give way to Israeli artillery, which fires dozens of shells into the Gaza Strip from land and sea. So far this year, Israel has fired more than 8,500 shells in an attempt to deter Palestinian militants from firing rudimentary rockets - about 900 since January—that usually land harmlessly in southern Israel.
For many Gaza Strip residents, the dull thud of the shells is little more than background noise for their daily lives. But they can also be deadly. In the past three months, at least seven Palestinians, including two children, have been killed by Israeli artillery and another 74 have been injured, according to the United Nations.
That doesn't include eight picnicking Palestinians killed by a still-undetermined June 9 beach blast during Israeli shelling of the coast. The Israeli military says its shelling that day wasn't to blame, but their investigation is in dispute and most Palestinians believe the eight were killed by artillery fire.
Witnesses often describe the "three voices" of the shells: The thud of their launch from naval ships off the coast or artillery units inside Israel. The whistle as they soar through the air. And the heavy blast as they land.
Along with the sonic booms scattered throughout the afternoon and the persistent artillery shelling, the days are peppered with the occasional sounds of Israeli missile strikes—more than 150 this year.
Israeli aircraft usually target Gaza Strip militants involved in the rocket attacks. But three recent attacks have gone awry and killed more than a dozen innocent Palestinians, creating widespread anger among Gaza Strip residents against Israel.
When things go wrong, Israeli leaders usually express their regret, but take no blame for the innocent deaths. All if it would come to an end, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last month before one of his soldiers was kidnapped, the minute Palestinian militants stop firing rockets into Israeli cities like Sderot.
"I am deeply sorry for the residents of Gaza," Olmert said. "But the lives, security, and well-being of the residents of Sderot is even more important."
The sporadic afternoon missile attacks usually pick up after midnight when the Israel Air Force hits militant training camps, cars carrying teams of rocket launchers, and, most recently, Palestinian government offices.
If Israel thinks the attacks will compel the Palestinians to put pressure on the militants, many Gaza Strip residents living under the siege say they are doing just the opposite.
"I would like to send a message to Olmert," said a defiant Najwa Khafana after listening to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh at Friday prayers. "They can cut off the electricity, they can cut off the water, but they will never defeat us."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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