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The beeper rings at 4 A.M., and they jump out of bed, leaving their wife and kids while they go chasing Qassam rockets.

Such has been the life of security officers in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip since the rocket barrages began eight years ago.

In the communities of the Gaza envelope they are known as "Qassam hunters." Men like Yehuda Ben Maman of Sderot, Gideon Sharabi of Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Yoav Peled of Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council and Nikki Levi of Eshkol Regional Council.

The difference between their work and that of security officers in the center of the country is much the same gulf between jobniks (soldiers serving in administrative positions) and combat soldiers. They arrive at the rocket landing site before anyone, call for back-up and document every Qassam fired at Israel.

Thursday afternoon, the day before the end of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, these officers summarized the past few months at a meeting on an observation point next to Sderot, exchanging stories with one another in the manner of brothers-in-arms. From their perspective, there was hardly a cease-fire at all.

Now they are preparing for an escalation.

"I think the cease-fire was a good thing. From a work perspective, it was important to give us room to breathe. I set a rule for myself - no Qassam would fall in the [Sha'ar Hanegev] Regional Council's territory whose location I wouldn't know, even if it's an open area in the middle of the night," Peled said. "We expect the situation to escalate, to go back to sleepless nights. We are instructing the council's emergency staff on how to prepare for the escalation."

The "hunters" know every trail, every stone in the Gaza envelope. In many instances, they identify the rocket's landing site even before the Israel Defense Forces.

Sharabi said during the cease-fire the security officers worked harder than usual.

"We didn't feel the cease-fire," he said. "It was clear to us that we had to stay alert and maintain a high level of preparedness. We need to prepare for the worst possible scenario once the cease-fire ends, because we know the Palestinians have increased their operational ability."

The officers' workload increases at night.

"It's clear that the immediate response to a Qassam landing in our territory is highly important, so we work at all hours," Sharabi said.

Levi, deputy security officer at Eshkol Regional Council, is the youngest of the group at 34 years old, and still gets excited by his work.

"It was a little boring for me during the cease-fire. Now that things are picking up, we're a lot more alert," he said.

Whenever there is an alert in the area, Ben Maman drives to the observation point in Sderot to update police on rockets he can view being launched from the Gaza Strip.

"It's not easy work at all - we, the security officers, work 24 hours a day, our beepers are always buzzing and the phones ring in the middle of the night," he said. "This is a job for a certain type of person. Those who don't like it won't hold up for more than two hours."