Hunger strikers in Sderot complied Monday with President Moshe Katsav's request and agreed to end their strike, nine days after it was first declared. However, residents said they plan to carry on with their protest. The strikers' leader, Alon Davidi, stated he was still disappointed that "there is one man afraid of showing up here, and this is the prime minister."
Mayor Eli Moyal convened a meeting to discuss the protest acts. All of the city's entrances and exits will be closed, and the streets will be darkened at nine in the evening.
The protest tent opposite the home of Defense Minister Peretz will be thickened and receive aid from Sderot municipality. "I hear the voices and I am aware of them. We have a feeling that our residents are not being protected and this situation has been going on for five and a half years. Over 3,000 rockets have landed," said Moyal.
"We are asking the government to uphold its basic commitment to protect the residents. I wouldn’t want the Palestinians and the world to see pictures of residents ditching the city. We want the city to be full, not abandoned. Part of the protest acts will go on in Jerusalem, including demonstrations opposite the Knesset, and other demonstrations," Moyal added.
Defense Minister Peretz said that "the acts are legitimate and have no political leaning, but rather the sending of a message."
Two Qassam rockets landed Monday afternoon in the Sderot area at the same time President Moshe Katsav was visiting the southern town with Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
One rocket landed north of the town, while the other fell at the local cemetery. A woman suffered from shock, but no damage to property was reported.
While visiting Mayor Eli Moyal’s Sderot Municipality office, Katsav said that as far as Israel is concerned “the Palestinian leadership is directly responsible (for the rocket fire.) We will not examine each Qassam to determine which faction owns it; the Palestinians have a leadership, they have a chairman, an Authority and a parliament – and they are all responsible.
“Since the disengagement military action aimed at thwarting their activity has become legitimate,” the president added.
Peretz, who accompanied Katsav to Moyal’s office, said “I have no intention of making restraint part of my work plan; restraint has run its course. We have the moral legitimacy to act.”
The defense minister added that he is making every effort to stop the Qassam fire, adding that the attacks did indeed stop temporarily after he had relayed a harsh message to leaders of Palestinian groups.
“I have the moral legitimacy to act because I am a man of peace,” Peretz said.
“We have answers and we will not put and the area’s children at risk,” he said. "I hope that in the coming days we will see a change in the terror organizations and that they will realize that they must halt their fire; there is no distinction among the factions – this is the message here.
At the entrance to the town, the two were met by Anat Shaviro (47), a resident of Sderot who complained to them of the fragile security situation, but mostly of her financial difficulties.
“I cannot even have a Bar-Mitzvah for my son,” she said. Katsav and Peres promised to help her.
'I am sure I will bring calm back to the area'
Peretz and Katsav are set to visit the hunger strikers tent in town, where Sderot residents have been protesting in the last week and-a-half, in a show of sympathy for their distress in face of the ongoing rocket strikes.
Meeting at mayor's office on Qassam fire (Photo: Amir Cohen)
The president's visit has postponed for a short while the locals' plans for an escalation of protest activities, but the town's people stated they will go ahead with the plans once Katsav leaves.