Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Fears of war mar Israel's celebration of new year


Israelis ushered in the Jewish New Year amid new fears of war, following fresh rocket attacks from Gaza.

At the same time, however, a flurry of diplomacy with the Palestinians has revived peacemaking for the first time in seven years.

The Rosh Hashana holiday, followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement -- is traditionally a time for taking stock of spiritual and cultural values, and Israelis were in thoughtful mood in the hours before the start of the holiday, at sunset on Wednesday.

At the lively open air Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, where shoppers scrambled to stock up on food before the two-day holiday, some Israelis expressed discontent with the government and frustration with the continued conflict with the Palestinians.

"I don't think you'll find any Israeli who's optimistic," said Ari Bouderhem, 47, owner of the Emil coffee shop. "It's not in our nature."

Bourderhem said holiday business was better than last year, which was marred by an inconclusive summer war with the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. But he said he saw rough times ahead and "maybe a war."

Jewish families celebrate Rosh Hashana by eating apples and honey and other traditional foods symbolizing sweetness and prosperity. The holiday this year falls on the same day as the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a routine measure, the Israeli military ordered a closure of Israel's borders with the West Bank and Gaza over the holiday, when packed synagogues, beaches and parks in Israel are seen as being particularly vulnerable to attack.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian rocket from Gaza struck an army base in southern Israel, wounding 40 soldiers, one critically.

Israeli ground troops entered the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday night. But the military described the incursion as routine and said it was not part of a large-scale mission.

Israel's government has ruled out a large-scale military retaliation amid concerns it could undermine fledgling peace talks with the moderate Fatah movement in control of the West Bank.

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