Ashkelon joins 'Color Red' rocket barrage zone

Resident of destroyed apartment: If the authorities don't do something, we'll be another Sderot.

Kassam top quality 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
Kassam top quality 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
At 5:20 Saturday morning, the "Color Red" siren was activated for the first time in Ashkelon. Three Grad missiles exploded shortly afterwards, lightly wounding three residents who were evacuated to the city's Barzilai Medical Center. Ashkelon, home to 120,000 people, was wired to the 'Color Red' early warning system late Thursday, following the firing of Grads from the Gaza Strip earlier in the day. Following Ashkelon residents' complains that the sirens cannot be heard in some of the neighborhoods, more sirens will be installed, the Home Front Command said. Word about the alert system traveled fast Friday among residents of the pastoral beach city, situated 20 kilometers from Sderot. The public bomb shelters, however, remained closed until Saturday. The Home Front Command wired eight more Moshavim and Kibbutzim near Ashkelon to the alert system on Saturday: Kfar Silver, Barchia, Bat-Hadar, Beit Shikma, Mavki'im, Talmei Yaffe, Mish'an and Giah. Oshri Bar-Sheshet, 17, who lives in the apartment building in the Atikot neighborhood that suffered massive damage on Thursday afternoon when a Grad missile hit the third and fourth floors, came to visit a friend in the area on Friday afternoon. "My mother refuses to come back here," Bar-Sheshet said. "They put us in a hotel [in Ashkelon] for now and ambulances evacuated the people suffering from shock to the hospital. But I am not afraid, because they say a rocket doesn't hit twice in the same spot." Bar-Sheshet, who has never been to Sderot, added: "The problem is that Ashkelon, unlike Sderot, doesn't have many open fields, and if they start shooting rockets at us regularly, the damage will be much greater." The escalation in attacks from Gaza brought a line of politicians to Ashkelon. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter was the first to visit some of the damaged sites in the city on Thursday, followed by Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office. Defense Minister Ehud Barak came on Friday and visited the damaged buildings in the Atikot neighborhood. "Ashkelon is ready and prepared and the residents will know how to handle the new reality if they must. But unless the Israeli government operates firmly and soon inside the Gaza Strip, in a short while a 'Color Red' alert system will be activated in Ashdod, and later on in Tel Aviv," Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mahatzri said in a statement Thursday night. During the day, assessors arrived to evaluate the damage the missile caused to the old building. Diana Sahadski, the tenant of the fourth floor apartment that suffered most of the damage, came to see her destroyed home on Friday afternoon. She and her son, 17, who was alone in the house when a Grad struck it, spent the night in a hotel on the beach. Sahadski could not believe how lucky she was to have her son safe and sound. The rocket went through the roof of her apartment, through the living room wall to the bathroom, and continued down to the third floor apartment below. "My son was in his bedroom and didn't know what was going on. He stood on his bedroom window ledge and thought he better jump. The house was full of dust and he was here alone. Luckily he wasn't wounded, but his mental state is quite bad," Sahadski, a single mother who immigrated to Israel 11 years ago from Russia, told The Jerusalem Post. "He doesn't want to come back here," Sahadski said in despair. "The rockets had already hit the Ashkelon industrial area [on the city's southern edge, toward Gaza]. It was only a matter of time before they hit inside the city. If the authorities don't do something, we'll be another Sderot." The Grad missile also damaged neighboring buildings. "My wife, Esther, was in the shower when it hit the building and the windows were broken; she fainted and an ambulance evacuated her to the hospital. It's a miracle she was not injured," Meir Partook, who lives in an adjoining building, said Friday as he and his children were cleaning shattered glass from their small garden. "We have been living in this house for 37 years and these buildings have no bomb shelters or fortified rooms. I don't know what we will do if things get worse," Partook said. A few hundred Ashkelon residents demonstrated Saturday night at the entrance to the city and called on the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign. The protesters blocked the main entrance to the city and drove in a convoy to the homes of city residents Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen. Shimon Peretz, director-general of Sderot municipality and a candidate for mayor of Ashkelon in November's municipal elections, attended the demonstration. "We are here to tell the government and Olmert that we will not let the Sderot mistake repeat itself in Ashkelon. Fight them, defeat them and then come back. We are willing to suffer for a few weeks but no longer than that. Now it's not just the 40,000 residents of Sderot and its surroundings - it's 200,000 of people under the rocket threat," Peretz said. When asked about the low attendance at the rally, Peretz said, "If the situation gets worse, I am sure ten of thousands of Ashkelon residents will protest here." A meeting was being held at the Sderot Municipality at press time to decide whether schools would open in the town on Sunday morning.