Sderot workers to shut down city

The Sderot municipality decided to shut the city down on Tuesday in protest at the continuing barrage of Kassam rockets from Gaza that have struck the area. All inner-city junctions would be shut down and every day, for an indefinite period of time, the city would be blacked-out from 9 p.m. Meanwhile hunger strikers ended their nine-day protest Monday evening at the request of President Moshe Katsav, who was touring the Kassam-struck southern city. Katsav said that the ongoing rocket attacks in the aftermath of Israel's disengagement from Gaza left Israel with no option other than a military response. He told the strikers to put their trust in the IDF in dealing with the situation. Katsav also attributed blame for the rocket attacks on the Palestinian leadership, declaring that it was irrelevant which terror group launched the rockets. If the Palestinian government could not control them, then it had to bear full responsibility for what they were doing said the president. Demonstrators said that they would continue their protests despite the end of the hunger strike. Mayor Eli Moyal announced that Sderot residents would soon march on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in order to awaken the country to what was happening. As Katsav toured the city on Monday afternoon, two Kassam rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in an open field. One person was treated for shock, but there were no reports of damage to property in the latest in a number of recent missile attacks that on Sunday forced Moyal to announce a city-wide strike and blockade of the city. Katsav met with the hunger strikers who have been protesting the government's failure to stop the Kassam rocket bombardments on their town and urged them to pursue their struggle in a way that did not put their health at risk. Many of the strikers agreed to do as he asked. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a Sderot resident, toured the city with Katsav. Peretz vowed that he would take the necessary action to put an end to the attacks, and warned that leaders of the groups who perpetrate the attacks by saying that they would not be safe if the attacks continue. Sderot residents sitting in the protest tent erected next Peretz's house Monday vented the pain and frustration caused by the most recent round of Kassam attacks on the town, but directed more of their anger to politicians than to the Palestinians launching the missiles. "Don't want money and no favors, just security!" screams one sign, "Don't give Hamas guns and don't give the city hall funds, both hurt us!" accuses another, while a third proclaims "Yes to security - a big NO to aid packages." "The residents' interests are not the same as those of the politicians," said Aryeh Cohen, one of the protest organizers. "We believe that there is a lot of corruption and that a small number of families is benefiting from all this money. Enough! We are tired of Kassams falling on us, and that the person benefiting from it all is the mayor. That's why we're saying now 'pass on the aid packages.'" "When [Moyal] gets the aid packages, he keeps quiet and tries to put the residents to sleep, so that they'll go home... But when it runs out, he starts inciting the residents," he added. Cohen and several others present alleged that instead of publishing an open tender for the projects, Moyal directed the funding to overpriced projects placed in the hands of "a few contractors that are connected to the mayor, and everyone here knows who they are." The aid packages received by Sderot are intended to fortify kindergartens and schools against rockets, in addition to various other projects. "The projects were carried out, but the people that carried them out were the same contractors each time," Cohen said. "Every time there's a slew of Kassams, the city hall of Sderot gets a slew of funds, like the abusive father that hits his son and then gives him candy," said Shlomo Souissa, a local columnist, visibly worn from efforts of conducting a hunger strike, despite dialysis. "Despite all those millions, this city looks neglected and pathetic. The money goes to a group of [Moyal] associates without tenders, as well as other benefits and favors, and the poor resident remains poor," Souissa charged. "The city of Sderot is rich, but the residents are poor." Residents voted Moyal in for a second term since "they believed he was capable of pulling the city out of the mud," he said. Recent announcements of a NIS 7.5 million grant to build summer camps in the town, the latest of many aid packages, failed to impress the protesters. "The money won't go to summer camps, but to private pockets," one charged, adding that he had spoken with an American Jew exiting the city hall who told him he had donated money to the city for a second time. "The question is whether that money will even be registered," he suggested. Danny Cohen, another Sderot resident protesting in the tent, said that the money should be given "to the residents, not city hall." Just as the government decided to grant Sderot residents a 50 percent discount on municipal property tax, Sderot residents could be granted a discount on university tuition and free tutoring could be provided for high school students to prepare them for the matriculation exams, he suggested. "We're not sitting here to slander the mayor, but to give constructive criticism," Souissa insisted. Moyal's spokesman at Sderot city hall could not be reached for comment before press time. Aryeh Cohen stressed that whether money comes in or not, the residents of Sderot demanded security. "Security, security, security. Not funding. Not money. Nothing but security for our children." Moyal told Channel 2 following the president's high-profile visit that, "according to experts he has spoken to, the IDF was exerting a mere five percent of its fire power to stop the attacks," and that if the IDF showed even 50% of its strength, "we would see a Kassam here maybe every half year."