Peres visits school in South_311.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman)
President Shimon Peres visited Kibbutz Erez and the surrounding area on Wednesday to show solidarity with Israelis living near the Gaza Strip.
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Kibbutz Erez in the Sha’ar Hanegev region is close to his heart because its pioneer founders in 1949 were members of the Ha’noar Ha’oved Vehalomed youth movement, of which Peres was also a member.
Escorted by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo, Peres toured the kibbutz and surrounds to inspect the damage done by rockets fired from Gaza during the past week. He also greeted kindergarten children and met with Alon Shuster, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, and with members of the kibbutzim in the area.
Russo told Peres that the IDF’s recent operations in Gaza were carried out with one purpose in mind, to give the residents of the South the chance to live a normal and quiet life.
“We operated on all fronts, air, sea and land, and we hurt Hamas badly,” said Russo.
He said there was a huge gap between the political and the military sectors of Hamas. The political sector is interested in putting out fires, he said, whereas the heads of the military wing, Izzadin Kassam, want to continue carrying out attacks.
Russo said that if given the order, the IDF could turn the situation around “whereby the tail wags the dog.” The IDF is ready for any possibility, though its main aim is to have a quiet normal situation in the South, he said.
Peres was warm in his praise of the “efficient and effective” way in which the army has conducted itself, and also applauded the government and the ministerial committee’s decision to approve the purchase of additional Iron Dome batteries to intercept missiles fired from Gaza.
Peres updated Russo and residents on his meeting last week with US President Barack Obama, specifically with regard to the security envelope that the US has granted to Israel, especially the financial aid to buy the additional Iron Dome batteries.
Peres characterized Hamas as a terrorist organization in every sense of the word, saying that it lacked any shred of human decency. He was particularly outraged that it would seek to hurt innocent children.
He cited the yellow school bus that was hit near Kibbutz Sa’ad last week by an anti-tank missile, which caused severe injury to 16-year-old Daniel Viflic. Hamas kills women, children and babies in cold blood, said Peres. If Hamas chooses to immediately stop smuggling weapons and firing rockets at Israel, said Peres, there could be total calm in Gaza, but if it chooses to keep inflicting harm on Israel, then the IDF is ready to deliver a painful blow to Hamas.
Peres had been scheduled to travel the route followed by the bus to the scene of last Thursday’s attack, but this part of his visit was cancelled because of security concerns.
Peres had an emotional meeting with Tzion Yemini, the driver of the school bus, who had dragged Viflic out of the burning wreckage. Yemini, who had been lightly injured, had tears in his eyes, and his voice trembled and shook as he told Peres of his traumatic experience.
Following the security briefing by Russo, Shuster gave Peres a demographic review of the region, saying that most of the kibbutzim were in the process of absorbing young people who had grown up there, had left and are now returning. There are also new members, who despite the security situation want to live in kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip.
Peres joined the children at the Gan Shaked kindergarten at Kibbutz Erez, sang Pessah songs with them and then engaged in serious conversation with them, asking them how they felt about the frequent firing of missiles from Gaza.
“I came here in the name of all the children of Israel to wish you a free and happy Pessah,” he told them. “You are the true heroes of the State of Israel. You are courageous and wise, and after listening to you, I leave here optimistic and greatly encouraged.”
The youngsters plied Peres with questions, demanding his job description, and the reason that he’d come to Gan Shaked. They were frank in sharing their feelings about how they were affected by the barrage of rockets and mortar shells pelting their area over the past week, but what moved Peres most was a question by five-year-old Uriel who put his hand up and asked: “Do you think we could have Gilad Schalit come back home for Pessah.”
“Just like you, everyone in Israel would like Gilad Schalit to be free for Pessah,” Peres replied. “He’s the son of all of us, and we want to see him returned safe and well to the bosom of his family and the bosom of Israel.”