'Gov't's powerlessness is intolerable'

Residents of Gaza periphery towns take Barak to task a day after deadly Kassam rocket attack.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday visited Moshav Yesha, where 70-year-old Shula Katz was killed a day earlier by a Kassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip. Residents of the moshav asked Barak to provide an effective response to the security threat posed by the constant barrage of rockets and mortar shells. Barak asked the residents to be strong and show resolve. The defense minister said that the government was aspiring to achieve quiet in the area. However, he added, "It won't take another eights years, and not even another year. But tomorrow the situation will not change." He pledged to promote the fortification of the area and the building of shelters. Barak said that all of the schools and bus stops would be fortified. Haim Yellin, the head of the Eshkol Regional Council, replied that "instead of demanding that the residents stand resolutely, the government should act swiftly in order to end Kassam fire." "The government's powerlessness and its disappearance during these difficult days in the Gaza periphery are intolerable," Yellin and the head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, Alon Shuster, told the defense minister. "We want to meet [US President George W.] Bush because he's the one who's really calling the shots." 70-year-old Katz, of Kibbutz Gvar'am, was killed while visiting Moshav Yesha in the Eshkol region. The deadly attack came four days after a mortar shell killed Jimmy Kedoshim, 48, a father of four, as he stood in the yard of his house in Kibbutz Kfar Aza in the Negev. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, after which certain defense officials warned against accepting the Egyptian-proposed cease-fire with Hamas and called for a military response to the continued rocket fire. A half-dozen rockets fell in the western Negev area Monday, including one that landed in Ashkelon. Despite the escalation in violence, officials close to Barak said that Israel was leaning toward accepting Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's truce offer, which was presented to the defense minister during a breakfast meeting at Barak's Tel Aviv home earlier in the day. Israel plans to first gradually accept the offer and later turn it into a full-fledged cease-fire following Gilad Schalit's release. Yaakov Katz and Herb Keinon contributed to this report