Ashkelon police create rocket response force

Increasing Grad missile attacks mean drastic new priorities for the city's former traffic commander.

kfir solomon 224.88 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
kfir solomon 224.88
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Kfir Solomon's radio speaker crackled with news of the latest rocket attacks to rock Sderot, just a few kilometers to the south. "Whoa, they're coming in thick and fast," the message said. "Be prepared for landings here," Solomon radioed back. "Turn on your siren lights and head for the schools so the students coming out can see you and feel more secure, over." A few minutes later, ambulances ferrying in the wounded and those suffering from shock Sderot came screaming in to Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center. "There are a lot of sirens coming from Sderot. Send a unit to the hospital to make sure things are going smoothly there," Solomon ordered. On normal days, Solomon is the Ashkelon police's traffic commander. But, as the city's police officers say, the past few days have been anything but normal. As part of the police department's response to the escalating attacks, a new rocket-response force has been created. The move was designed to dramatically increase the visibility of patrols and officers throughout the city's residential and industrial sections. Ashkelon has been divided into four areas, with a large number of patrols scouting the city. The new force is one of a number of drastic changes made by the Ashkelon police following the Grad rockets that have slammed into the city in the past few days. A few residents were wounded and the rest have been kept on edge as rockets ripped holes in apartments and roads, city police chief Dep.-Cmdr. Haim Blumenfeld told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Twelve-hour shifts for all officers, switchboards inundated with worried residents asking whether they should sleep in bomb shelters and constant readiness to head for a new rocket attack scene have characterized the past few days, Blumenfeld said. "Our message to the residents is that life here goes on as normal," he said. "At the same time, we're providing them with clear instructions with what to do if they do hear the Color Red alert," Blumenfeld added. The city's diverse ethnic mix is reflected in the number of languages that appear on the police leaflets telling residents how to deal with rockets - Hebrew, Amharic, French, and Russian. "We've appointed four community officers who are fluent in those languages to help explain the procedures," Blumenfeld said. "The officers' morale is high, because they understand the importance of this mission, they're defending their home. We have sent out a big force to make sure people can see that we're there for them. We're flooding this city with patrols," he added. The interview was temporarily interrupted by a call from former police chief Moshe Karadi. "These rockets are nothing like the Kassams. They're slamming into homes and causing enormous damage," Blumenfeld told his former boss. The patrols are tense, with officers attempting to adjust to the fact that their city has become a frontline community. "If we do hear the Color Red rocket siren, we will get out of the car and lie on the pavement," Solomon warned during his patrol, rolling down his window to make sure he didn't miss the alert. He received a dispatch from a colleague in Sderot, where 10 rockets had just fallen. "Take care of yourself," Solomon said over the radio. "We're in touch with Sderot police around the clock, because they have tremendous experience," he said, as his police jeep pulled up at a nearby school. "Most times, residents aren't that thrilled to see us, but these days, they're very happy to have us around," he added. With the added security threat looming over the city, officers were now struggling to tackle crime, Solomon said, adding that last year, the overall crime rate in Ashkelon fell by 50 percent. "There's also been a 40% reduction in lethal accidents. With our new reality though, we're going to have to work much harder to keep this up." His jeep stopped near the site of a Saturday morning Grad attack, where repair work on the road was nearly complete and glass from a shattered storefront was swept up from the sidewalk. One car was totally destroyed by the rocket and two others were badly burnt. "These are two-engine rockets, and they're being fired from central, not northern, Gaza," Solomon noted. "The real heroes are not the emergency responders or the police, but the children and women they leave behind, who have to watch their father or husband go out to save a life while leaving them exposed," said Solomon, who has a two-year old son. "That's the only thing I find very difficult."