School's back amid uneasy calm in southern Israel


Netivot (Israel) (AFP)

In the Israeli town of Netivot, fewer than two dozen children returned to school Thursday after two days of deadly exchanges of fire between the army and Palestinian militants in the nearby Gaza Strip.

The violence, sparked by Israel's targeted killing of a top Islamic Jihad commander on Tuesday, saw 34 killed in Gaza and hundreds of rockets fired from the enclave into southern Israel, forcing schools to close.

Shouli Kahlon, arriving to bring her seven-year-old boy to class at Netivot's Yitzhak Rabin school, said she was still worried.

"But my son wanted to go to school," she said.

No Israelis were killed in the fighting, but medics said they had treated dozens of people with mild injuries -- almost half of them with symptoms of stress.

On Thursday morning, just 20 or so of the school's 256 children turned up for class, headteacher Mihal Cohen said.

Standing in the playground, the headteacher welcomed pupils with a smile before directing them to special classes for the day.

"We'll start the morning with talking circles," she said.

She tried to reassure parents about the day, informing them that children would be offered psychological support.

"The teachers are trained for that," she said.

"It's not easy, we'll see the repercussions later," as children deal with traumas caused by the rockets, she said.

A ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad, mediated by the UN and Egypt, went into effect Thursday morning as a precarious calm returned to southern Israel.

The fighting saw some 450 rockets fired into Israel, according to the army.

The vast majority were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system, but some made it through -- one narrowly missing speeding cars on a busy highway.

Netivot, a town of 35,000 lying about eight kilometres (five miles) from the border with Gaza, was hit by four rockets including one which landed on a house, without causing any casualties.

Israeli authorities have urged people to return to life as normal, but residents remained palpably nervous despite the truce.

At the Yitzhak Rabin school, the talking circles didn't last long.

At around 11 am just an hour after classes resumed, the sirens sounded once again, sending residents running for shelter.

Another rocket fell near the town -- on unused ground this time.

Not far from the school, Shimon Ben Shimon stood outside his shawarma restaurant.

Usually full of people at lunchtimes, it was empty.

"We said to ourselves: 'that's that, it's over, we'll be able to go to work'," he said.

"But since this morning there's been a ceasefire, and then at 11 o'clock, they fire at us again."

But Revital Lev was philosophical as she dropped her 10-year-old son off at school.

"It's like this here, one day the war and the next peace," she said.

"We get used to it, we have no choice".