Angry Sderot residents briefly block Ayalon Highway

Protest organizer says demonstration's goal was to call for a large-scale IDF op in Gaza; PM in Germany: I feel the pain of Sderot residents.

The Ayalon Highway northbound was reopened to traffic Monday afternoon after being blocked by Sderot activists for a short period of time. The city's residents were protesting government policy in the Gaza Strip and the continued rocket attacks against the city. Several hundred activists parked buses on the main artery Monday afternoon, bringing traffic to a standstill between the Shalom and Arlozorov interchanges. Protest organizer Batya Katar said that the demonstration's goal was to call for a large-scale IDF operation against terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip that would secure the safety of residents of Sderot and other Gaza-belt communities. "Israel needs to return [our] security and go into Gaza. We have to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from expanding," Katar said. Katar added that many people in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - the site of protests earlier Monday and on Sunday - had expressed their support for the Sderot activists and promised to help. "I call on all the country's citizens to take part. Kassams have already gone past Sderot. Today, it's Sderot and Ashkelon. Tomorrow, it's Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. If we don't wake up now, it will be too late," she stressed. "Everyone here, young and old, is traumatized," Binyamin Bracha, chairman of the Echpat organization, told Walla! News. "[Sderot] residents are waiting for the people's support. As soon as [people] in Jerusalem told us 'good job,' it was like a shot of energy." Police, including special forces, were deployed to the site of the Ayalon protest but had refrained from dispersing the activists. The demonstrators left the highway of their own accord and moved on to the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel Radio reported. Following a protest parade near the Azrieli Towers and the Kirya, the seat of the IDF General Staff, protesters will return to Jerusalem to man the tents. Alon Davidi, head of the informal Department for Sderot Security, said that people in Jerusalem were sympathetic to the plight of Sderot residents despite the disruptions and congested roads felt in the capital, and added that his people were similarly supported by Tel Aviv's residents. On Sunday, activists protested in Jerusalem in front of the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court as residents of the rocket-battered town played the Color Red alert on loudspeakers, blocked the city's main entrance, and called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation in front of his Jerusalem office. Olmert, who was visiting Berlin on Monday, expressed solidarity with the plight of the bombarded residents of Sderot and said that he believed with all his heart that their situation would eventually improve. "[Even] here I feel the pain of the residents of Sderot, like I felt the pain of the residents of Kiryat Shmona, like I felt the pain of the residents of Beit She'an and like I felt the pain of the residents of Jerusalem," Olmert said during a visit to the city's Jewish Museum. "Every city had to deal with such adversity in its time," he said. "They justifiably want what everybody else wants - to live in security and without a daily threat." "This is not something that can happen in one day," said Olmert, "the security establishment has the tools and all the necessary confirmations to deal with this threat." "I believe with all my heart that it will change," he added. One did not need "to come to Berlin to see that the Jewish people can have no future without strength. The future, faith and hope can be the foundations of peace. "That is what we're struggling for; that is what we're fighting for," Olmert said.