Touring Sderot Monday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi asked in disbelief three times, "5,000 Qassams have hit Sderot and the Gaza perimeter?"
"It's hard to see the daily suffering of the residents here. It's impossible to live like this," said the Italian premier, on his first visit to the Qassam-battered southern city.
Prodi was accompanied by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal on his tour of the area.
Prodi, Livni and Moyal in Sderot (Photo: Amir Cohen)
"The importance of this visit can't be disregarded," Livni told Ynet. "There is great significance to the fact that the prime minister of Italy, one of the most important nations in Europe, is seeing the Qassam threat in Sderot firsthand."
"Even if no results are seen immediately, the next time he partakes in a conference on the Hamas issue, Prodi will see things differently – as he sees them from here," she said.
Shock and empathyAs part of his Sderot tour Prodi visited a local synagogue that was directly hit by a rocket not long ago, just minutes after hundreds of worshippers finished a service there.
He looked with astonishment at the hole blown through the synagogue's ceiling, not far from where a congregation was praying in an adjoining hall.
Prodi met the bereaved mother of an infant killed when a Qassam smashed into their house, and hugged her to express his deep sympathy.
"Have they (Hamas) really set up an army in Gaza?" Prodi asked the Southern Command's intelligence commander, who debriefed him on Hamas' takeover of the Strip.
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal also stressed the importance of Prodi's visit. Although he does not believe it will bring about specific change, he thinks it symbolizes a change in European attitudes towards the situation here.
"I told him about the collapse of businesses in Sderot, and heard about the daily problems of residents living under threat," he said.
Israeli ambassador in Rome Gideon Meir said that "after such a visit, it cannot be said that the Prodi administration is less pro-Israel than his predecessor's, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. This is a most important visit, and Sderot's role in it is pivotal."