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NIR AM, Israel - With deadly fighting raging next door in the Gaza Strip, southern Israeli towns along the border have turned into mini army bases as most residents have fled. Those left behind say they are long inured to near-daily salvos of rocket fire from Gaza but newly discovered tunnels that have been dug by Islamic militants nearby have them spooked.
"It's changed our viewpoint entirely. The rockets we somehow got used to. This is something else. They are under our homes," said Ofra Benudiz, a 52-year-old mother of four in Nir Am, a kibbutz near Sderot. "Our greatest fear is that they will infiltrate." Earlier this week, 10 Gaza militants dressed in Israeli army uniforms popped out of the ground less than a mile away. They killed four Israeli soldiers before an airstrike killed them, preventing them from moving deeper into the country. Soldiers have taken over communal areas, ready to act in case of emergency. The sunflower and avocado fields have become staging grounds for troops going in and out of Gaza. "This is no place for children now. They don't need these traumas," said kibbutz spokesman Ofer Liberman, who has four daughters of his own.
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