Ashkelon mayor helps evacuate dead, wounded

The mayor was the first person to reach the construction site of the municipal library, where a Hamas Grad rocket landed at 9:20 a.m.

December 29, 2008 23:20
1 minute read.


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As soon as Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin laid eyes on Hanni Al-Mahdi, he knew the 27-year-old construction worker from the Beduin village of Aro'er was dead. "He was pale, there was no question he was gone," Vaknin told The Jerusalem Post. The mayor was the first person to reach the construction site of the municipal library, where a Hamas Grad rocket landed at 9:20 a.m. "I heard the explosion and saw a mushroom cloud of smoke near the municipality," he said. "We rushed over there in our car." Vaknin, an IDF war veteran who served in the Artillery Corps, said his experiences with violent death during his time as a soldier have left him desensitized to difficult scenes. During the Yom Kippur War, Vaknin was forced to spend a night with 10 bodies of fallen IDF soldiers. On Monday, Vaknin helped paramedics place people who were seriously wounded by the rocket on ambulance stretchers. "I was not in shock. Unfortunately, I'm not shocked by anything anymore," he said. Vaknin planned the library building himself and noted that the building had a bomb shelter. He expressed anger over the failure of the construction workers to heed Home Front Command instructions to residents, which call on people to immediately seek cover when hearing the air-raid siren. Five rockets struck Ashkelon during the day, the municipality said, though only the first attack resulted in casualties. Mahdi's body was lying at the entrance to the bomb shelter, but he was not wounded while trying to seek shelter, Vaknin insisted. "This has been investigated. The construction workers didn't run for cover when the siren went off," Vaknin said. Meanwhile, the Ashkelon Municipality opened its own day-care facility for city employees who must continue to show up for work, even as the rest of the city's residents remain indoors. The municipality has also launched a hot line for residents, staffed by psychologists who speak a variety of languages, including English. Those interested in speaking to a psychologist can call (08) 676-4888 between 8 a.m. and midnight. The municipality, which has ordered all schools in Ashkelon shut, has organized a number of children's activities in bomb shelters.

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