Eight days after Operation Pillar of Defense began, southern residents received the news of a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza groups with great disappointment.
"This wasn't the conclusion we prayed for," said Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri, whose city continued to come under fire after 9 pm Wednesday, when the truce went into effect. "I am afraid this lull will last for only a short while, and hope that at least we have garnered international support for a harsh response that will become necessary when the fire is renewed."
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Sderot Mayor David Buskila echoed the sentiment, saying he opposes the way the hostilities were put to an end. Dozens of residents of the city rallied on Wednesday night against the truce agreement and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.
Sderot residents protest against ceasefire (Photo: George Ginsberg)
"The fighting should have been concluded with an accord indicating Israel's clear supremacy and with the Israeli deterrence being restored to its former level," he said. "I hope the decision turns out to have been the right one. Only time will tell.
"In any case, I feel no pride," he added.
'Rocket fire to continue'
Some 1,500 rockets were fired towards Israel since the operation began last Wednesday, killing five Israelis. The Jewish state announced it is holding its fire at 9 pm with hopes that the groups in Gaza will stop the rocket fire, but some 13 projectiles were launched towards the south before subsiding around 11 pm. Sirens sounded across the region, and the Home Front Command announced that schools will remain closed on Thursday in towns within 40 kilometers of the Strip.
Interception over Sderot (Photo: Reuters)
IDF forces remained on standby near the Gaza border. Officials in the defense establishment said they hope the blows the army dealt in the enclave during the operation will put off another round of escalation, although they speculated that some rocket fire will continue in the coming days.
"No one is under the illusion that the fire will stop," one official said, but asserted that Israel's deterrence has been reestablished after the army mounted some 1,700 strikes on Gaza. The IDF is concerned that terror groups competing with Hamas, including the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, as well as Salafist operatives who have returned to the region, will try yet again to reignite the hostilities.
Nevertheless, the officials say Hamas was caught off guard by the intense pounding.
"We have seen 300 bombings within a few hours, which shocked Hamas," one source said. "Hamas wanted a ceasefire. It wasn't prepared for such an escalation."
The IAF destroyed Hamas' long-range missile stocks almost entirely, but thousands of short and midrange rockets remained in the group's possession. Hamas was estimated to have 10,000 rockets before the operation was launched, and it used up some 1,500 of them over the past week. The IDF destroyed roughly a thousand launchers, leaving Hamas with some 6,000 rockets.
The IDF forces remained on high alert overnight. Soldiers deployed in the Gaza region were informed that abduction warnings were in place. The army had uncovered and bombed in recent days several tunnels that were meant to bypass the border between Israel and Gaza.
Residents dispirited by op
Nevertheless, residents of the south said they were dissatisfied with the results of the operation.
"We expected more," said Shlomit, a resident of Sderot. "The rocket fire will return within a week or two and once again no one will care about projectiles fired on Sderot. Maybe they won't fire towards Tel Aviv anymore, but some rockets will be fired towards Sderot."
Lihi Ben-Amo, a resident of the city of Beersheba, said she sees the ceasefire as capitulation.
"Why should we go through all this suffering if we immediately fold?" she pondered.
"We've suffered for eight days and we can suffer for two weeks if they can put an end to it once and for all," added Ziva Shmuelov, another resident. She said the truce guarantees that the escalation will repeat itself every few years.
Itay Levy, a reserve soldier who was drafted for the operation and a resident of a Negev town, said he was "dispirited" but the situation.
"If someone fires a rocket on my town tomorrow, do you think anyone will respond? We didn't do this operation properly. The rocket fire will return soon," he said.
Iron Dome in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area (Photo: MCT)
Ofakim Mayor Zvika Greengold noted that ceasefire agreements like the one that was reached on Wednesday tend not to stick in the long run.
"You cannot live a normal civilian life under fire, which is why we look upon this deal with mixed feelings," he said. If the agreement fails to reinstate a long-lasting lull "we will be very disappointed," he added.
Shortly after announcing the truce in a press conference on Wednesday evening, Netanyahu posted a statement on Facebook trying to explain the move. The post drew more than 1,700 comments from constituents, most of them blasting the agreement.
"I am a resident of the south, and we've just been hit by a barrage of 10 Grad rockets," one said. "What ceasefire are you talking about… You folded under the table, and now Hamas is celebrating. Why? Because Bibi sold the south."
"For the first time in my life I won't be voting for Likud," said another.
"Hamas released a statement saying that 'our terms for the truce have been met, we have won,'" another comment read. "The painful truth is that this time they are right."
"You have lost my vote and I'm a Likud voter," Anat Cohen wrote on Facebook.
"Shame on you, you embarrassingly capitulated to terror," another commentator wrote in response to the PM's post. "Let's hope that the people of Israel will kick you out in the next elections.
Only some spoke favorably of the prime minister's decision.
"Dear Bibi, thanks for all you've done," one response read. "You didn't rush to send our troops in and protected their lives and the life of my dear son."
"I am proud of your decision," another web user wrote. "People, calm down. What do you prefer? That more people and babies die here? Use your brain. I am proud of Bibi! He is the only one I will vote for."
Yoav Zitun and Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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