"Don't conduct yourselves as though the Grad rocket attacks were not a one-time thing; this has been Israel's reality for the past 60 years, and this demands restraint as well as strength," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told board members of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon Tuesday.
"There is no point in comparing your situation to that of Sderot or other towns that have sustained the rocket fire for years," the PM told hospital officials after hearing their complaints over the fact that the hospital has yet to be fortified.
"The Grad is heavier than the Qassam, and we have no way of preventing these things (rocket attacks) from recurring."
However, during a visit to an Ashkelon school, one of the students shared an idea for curbing the rocket fire.
"My dad said that we should have some sort of button, so every time a Qassam is fired, it will fire back at them," the fourth-grader told Olmert, putting a smile on the faces of the adults in the classroom.
"Well, I think we're going to have that patented," answered the PM, trying to convey a sense of self-assurance in the face of the children's obvious distress.
Protected by desks
During Olmert's visit to Harel Elementary, the prime minister discovered that the school has no bomb shelters that can be reached within 15 seconds of the sounding of a siren warning of an incoming rocket.
The closest fortified room – the school's computers class – was two minutes away from the yard and most classrooms. "We don't have enough time to get to the shelter, so we hide under our desk," the school's fourth-graders told the prime minister.
Olmert talks to students (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
Olmert asked the children to demonstrate what happens when a Color Red alert sounds, prompting the children to vanish under their desks in seconds.
Ashkelon's Deputy Mayor Levi Shafran, who accompanied Olmert on his tour of the city, told the PM how terrible it is to know that all the city's 26,000 students have to protect them from rockets are their desks.
"I'm glad I got to be at your school... Ashkelon has been mentioned a lot in the media lately and it was important for me to come and see for myself how you're doing," Olmert told the students, "to make sure you know that we, the army and your teachers are all very concerned for you.
"I promise all of you that we are doing everything we can to make sure you have a safe, happy life," the PM said.
Rocket lands after PM leaves
Palestinian terrorists in Gaza launched a rocket that fell near Ashkelon a short time after Olmert left the city. The rocket landed in an open area south of the city of 120,000 causing no injuries but threatening to upset a recent period of calmpolice spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Olmert, who has repeatedly denied reports of a possible ceasefire with Hamas in recent days, told the Barzilai officials "they (Palestinians) are holding their fire not because of their love for Israel; they suffer too when we inflict a painful blow and they are forced to reassess the situation; but this does not mean they won't start (firing) again.
"We have no desire to harm the residents of Gaza; we are doing it because reality is giving us no other choice…So their pain will cause them to stop. We have no distinct policy of launching operations, but rather a systematic method of fighting terrorism wherever it may be, including in Jerusalem."
Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri told Olmert that the government must address the lack of fortification in the city, as well as its socio-economic situation.
Deputy Mayor Levi Shafran told the prime minister, "As you have seen with your own eyes during the drill we conducted in the class you visited, the children's only protection (from the rockets) is their desks. (The government) must protect, not fortify; it must deal with the Qassams and the Grads and not fortify the city with a budget that is equal the what the city spends in 15 years."
Toward the end of his visit to the southern city the prime minister said "I am leaving encouraged. I did not come to make any promises to the residents, but to convey to them that the situation is complex and that we have no immediate solutions. However, I am encouraged by the fact that the municipality, the residents and the students are not afraid.