Grad rocket in Ashdod
Photo: Guy Ben Shushan
Qassam in Sderot
Photo: Roy Idan

Southern residents not celebrating truce

Three weeks of barrages with casualties and panic won't end so fast, inhabitants of rocket-stricken communities fear – despite ceasefire declaration. Ashkelon mayor worried, his Sderot counterpart optimistic. Some residents demand: Continue Gaza operation

"I would like express a hope that a first step has been taken towards a different reality of security and calm for Israel's residents," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday night as he concluded his declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.


But after three weeks with hundreds of rockets – which left three people killed, dozens wounded, hundreds treated for shock and heavy damage – the residents of southern Israel are not celebrating. Protests are also being voiced, alongside several rockets which were still fired late Saturday, perhaps not for the last time.


Since the start of Operation Cast Lead, the rocket range has been extended and about 1 million citizens have entered the threat routine which had only been familiar to the residents of the Gaza vicinity in the past eight years.


Three residents were killed on the first week of the fighting: Beber Vaaknin, Hani al-Mahdi, and Irit Sheetrit. Seven-year-old Orel Lazarov is still fighting for his life at a Beersheba hospital.


Alon Davidi, who founded the Committee for a Secure Sderot, says he believes he and his friends will have to go out and protest again.


"I listened attentively to the prime minister's statement, and unfortunately we are once again forced to rely on Egypt and other countries in order to prevent the smuggling and the firing towards us," he notes.


According to Davidi, "If the Home Front Command instructs us not to send the children to school, what kind of ceasefire is this? We backed the ground offensive completely. All these years we asked for a ground offensive, and now of all times, when we're close to victory, they stop it.


"This decision leaves us with no choice but to go out again and demonstrate, work and warn that we will once again be exposed to the Qassam rocket fire."


Sderot Mayor David Buskila, on the other hand, says that as he did not intervene in the decision to enter the Gaza Strip, he now accepts the government's decision.


"We'll accept any decision the government makes, as long as the city of Sderot is not fired on again. And as far as I understand, the moment this happens the IDF will act," he explains. "I also don't think the rocket fire will return to Sderot. In the north we saw that Hizbullah held its fire after the ceasefire."


'Without commitments we'll be exposed'

Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin is not optimistic, but rather "very concerned".


According to Vaknin, "No one is telling us whether the firing of missiles towards Ashkelon will be stopped. No one is telling us exactly what is going to happen in the near future.


"As mayor, I'm interested in the city's residents, and according to the estimates we've received Hamas still has the capabilities to continue firing. I am extremely worried by this, because there is no signed agreement here in which Hamas declares that it will stop firing."


Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri did not listen to the prime minister's statement. He was at a rocket landing site in the city, helping treat the many people who suffered shock.


"I still can't express a clear stance on this issue as I have yet to listen to the remarks thoroughly," he says. "My stance in principle is that a ceasefire must include a commitment by Hamas and the international body. Without it, unfortunately, we will continue to be exposed to the rocket fire."


While the prime minister spoke, some 100 Sderot residents demonstrated outside the municipality building, demanding that the Gaza operation continue. The residents carried signs and flags of Israel.


One of the speakers at the rally, Avi Farahan, who was evacuated from a Gaza settlement in the past and now lives in Sderot, has said in the past that "we have witnessed a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and we've seen what has happened since then.


"Now they decide on a unilateral ceasefire with no one asking what part Egypt has played so far in the smuggling of all the weapons to the Gaza Strip. All we want and demand is to let the IDF win. We don’t want decisions to be made now for election considerations and other political considerations."


פרסום ראשון: 01.18.09, 07:07
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