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Ackerman recounts rocket scare during visit to Israel

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside) recalled how he was hustled into a shelter to evade rockets fired from Gaza during his visit to Israel over the weekend and reaffirmed his support for the Jewish state in its most recent conflict with Hamas in a conference call Tuesday with reporters.

“It was the fastest five steps the mayor and I ever took,” the congressman said, referring to how he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were whisked away to safety while visiting the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

During the trip, Ackerman first visited the town of Ashkelon, where he met with its new mayor and some Queens natives who were now living there.

He then traveled in a motorcade to Sderot, which has been ravaged by missile attacks from Hamas militants in Gaza.

While in Sderot, Ackerman visited a hospital that was treating some of the victims of the attacks as well as a command center that was monitoring the missiles.

“Somebody yelled about incoming missiles,” he recalled. “We all just followed them, but we moved pretty quickly.”

Ackerman said a heavy steel door was sealed to protect him and the other visitors. The missile eventually landed in the city but did not harm the entourage.

Before the missile hit, Ackerman said he was viewing how Israelis keep track of missiles fired from Gaza, which he said included a series of computer screens showing real−time views of Gaza. When a missile is launched, Ackerman said, military personnel are able to pinpoint its trajectory and broadcast a warning to a particular part of Israel where they believe the missile will hit.

Ackerman defended Israel’s response to the rocket attacks that led to the nation’s military operation against the Palestinian territory last week.

He said Israel “had shown remarkable restraint in not striking back” after a cease−fire with Hamas expired Dec. 18, but the country had no choice but to respond when Hamas stepped up the rocket attacks.

The congressman also said there was no such thing as a proportionate response in a war, arguing that Israel was justified in launching a ground invasion into Gaza Sunday.

“It’s like saying to the victim of a rape, ‘You shouldn’t fight back that hard,’ ” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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