Givat Olga, Israel — On a recent steamy Mediterranean day, a few hundred young Israeli soldiers, outfitted in their khaki dress uniforms, sat down for dinner in an air-conditioned hall at a small military rest-and-recreation center here. While some spoke in Hebrew, many held their conversations in English or Russian or Spanish, the languages of their homelands.
In the three weeks prior to May 19, the Israel Defense Forces reported 299 terror attacks ó not just bombings but shootings, knifings, assaults and hit-and-run car attacks ó among other incidents and foiled threats.
The number of Israeli casualties since September 2000, the outbreak of the second intifada, has reached 6,177, with 778 killed and 5,399 injured.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under fire at home this week for allegedly disregarding Palestinian civilians in its zeal to combat terrorists, and from the United Nations, which called upon Israel to remove its security barrier that Arabs call a land grab.
The controversy within Israel arose after the Israeli military launched one of the largest series of air strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Five air strikes were conducted against suspected Palestinian terrorists and a weapons factory in Gaza City.