Dozens of foreign ambassadors and diplomatic officials visiting Ashdod had to seek shelter from rocket fire on Tuesday morning when a warning siren sounded in the southern city during an address by Mayor Yehiel Lasri.
The dignitaries were swiftly ushered to a protected area as the volley of projectiles approached the city, with at least one intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.
Diplomats from Spain, South Korea, Costa Rica, Cameroon and numerous other countries took part in the tour of Ashdod and Ashkelon arranged by the Foreign Ministry.
Most of them were unruffled by the siren, proceeding quickly but calmly to the safe zone and reemerging unfazed by the interruption, possibly because Tel Aviv and the surrounding districts where their embassies are located have been the target of rocket attacks in the past few weeks.
Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba of the Cameroon said he felt the urgency of the alarm as much as anyone but did not seem particularly perturbed by it.
Etoundi Essomba praised Lasri for the care he demonstrated for the residents of his city, adding that Cameroon was generally supportive of Israel and wished to see stability return to the country.
During his address, the mayor illustrated the difficulties faced by the city in the face of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups and said his residents had the right to live normal lives free from the threat.
The diplomats also visited Ashkelon and Barzilai Medical Center in the city where they met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an unscheduled stop.
Netanyahu praised the diplomatic officials for visiting southern Israel, saying it gave them “a taste of the systematic terror we’re subjected to” by Palestinian terrorist groups who seek to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible.
The prime minister vigorously asserted that the terrorists groups wished for the deaths of their own civilians to gain international sympathy.
“I’m not guessing this, I’m not estimating it, I know it to be a fact. I hear it. It’s gruesome, it’s grotesque, I can’t say I’ve seen anything like that, it’s unbelievable...
They don’t care about the people in Gaza, they want as many civilian dead as they can get,” he argued, visibly riled by recent events.
“Why? For photogenic fodder, so they can reverse cause and effect, so they can get you and your governments to bemoan and bewail civilian casualties, which are obviously tragic, and to lay them at our doorstep,” he told the ambassadors.
Netanyahu asked the ambassadors for their moral support, saying that to do otherwise would embolden other Islamist terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and the Islamic State.
South Korean Ambassador Kim Ilsoo said the international community wanted an end to the series of conflicts between Israel and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and that he understood Israel’s desire to demilitarize the territory, although it was unclear how that could be achieved.
He praised Israeli citizens for “very courageously enduring this crisis and traumatic situation,” and lauded the Iron Dome system and civil defense procedures for saving lives.
“Korea is not a stranger to this immoral situation because of North Korea,” he added, noting the shared threat his country and Israel face from artillery bombardment from a hostile neighbor.
The South Korean government fully understood Israel’s duty to protect the lives of its citizens, but the increasing casualties were a cause for concern and so it supported “an early cessation of this conflict,” the ambassador said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi accompanied the diplomats on the tour.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Hanegbi said that Israel’s diplomatic focus after the current conflict ends would be to bring international pressure to bear on Hamas to force it to disarm.
“We will seek to enact what we can call the Syrian model, which we witnessed when the world forced the terrorist Assad regime to abandon its illegal chemical weapons, and this is what we need to do in Gaza to force Hamas to demilitarize, in return for deepening economic development and to create there an independent and prosperous life, which we hoped would transpire when we originally left [in 2005’s disengagement],” Hanegbi said.
He said that a cease-fire would only be possible “if the lethal weapons, rockets and tunnels cease to be part of the reality in Gaza,” adding that the only way to prevent conflict with Hamas was to force it to give up its arms.
This would be feasible “if the world understands this is the only way to stop another round of violence in the future,” Hanegbi said.