Residents still stressed by warnings of renewed rocket attacks.
By SHELLY PAZ
Sderot saw its quietest day in a long time on Sunday, with no Kassams or sirens, but many area residents had already left on Friday after the warnings that Hamas might fire hundreds of rockets.
"We had some early information about an operation on the way, and since our kibbutz is not reinforced [against rockets] we decided to evacuate most of the people," Kfar Aza member MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) said on Sunday.
The members of his kibbutz were happy with the quiet day, despite the fact that most of them opposed a military operation inside Gaza, Hermesh said.
Waiting for the promised hail of Kassams was hard on residents.
"The stress is enormous, and you never know when it will get you," Tikva, a Sderot resident, said as she was waiting in line to buy tickets for her children to a Hannuka show at the new community center on Sunday.
The previous evening, Tikva was evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon with a stress-induced heart disorder.
"All of a sudden I had an attack of strong stomach pains and and an accelerated heart beat. I would leave here if I could, but my family lives in Ashkelon and they are being hit now, too," she said.
A friend sitting next to her said she would never leave Sderot.
"Things are good for me here. So what if they fire rockets at us," she said.
Earlier on Sunday, the Home Front Command distributed 3,800 beepers to older residents of Sderot and to residents of neighborhoods that have no safe rooms in their homes; they have to wait out the Kassam warning sirens in their hallways.
Soldiers went house to house helping the residents, many of them immigrants, to set up the beepers that go off whenever there is a "Color Red" alert.
Also on Sunday, a few dozen tanks made their way to the area. Infantry companies came just after them, equipped with food, warm clothing, mobile toilets and silence.
Their commanders had forbidden them to speak to reporters, in contrast to the general practice during the Second Lebanon War.
But they didn't show great resistance to be photographed. They posed as they cleaned the tanks' gun barrels and put up a sign reading "Welcome to Kfir Company."
The talk of Sunday was if and when the IDF would go inside Gaza.
"We have tried the way of diplomacy and the truce, and nothing worked. The operation will continue as long as needed," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, told a foreign reporter in Sderot, prior to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's press conference.
When a British reporter asked Gilad why Israel was using so much force in Gaza, Gilad told her that Israel, just as Britain had done in the past, was protecting its citizens.
While the foreign journalists did not seem satisfied with the answers they got from Livni and Gilad, Marcus Sheff, executive director of The Israel Project's Jerusalem office, said the journalists whom they were in touch with on Saturday were not critical of Israel's most massive assault on Gaza ever.
"We explain to them that the southern region in Israel has suffered years of rocket attacks and that Israel is not after the Palestinians but after Hamas's infrastructures," he said. "We are known as a credible information source, and we help them get spokesmen, talking heads and facts. Nonetheless, I have never felt anger from foreign journalists who work in Israel. They live here too, even if for a limited period of time, they experience life here as well."
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