"Only after dozens of Kassams does gov't get it"; barrage wrecks restaurant.
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Although the total number of Kassam rockets that fell in Sderot Sunday only reached 14 - almost half the daily average of the past week - Sderot residents' frustration at the government boiled over as protests erupted in and around the city.
Despite Defense Minister Amir Peretz's declaration of a "special situation" in the city, residents said that this came too little, too late.
"Unfortunately, only after dozens of Kassam rockets and [after] thousands of residents have left Sderot, the government only now understands that there is a state of emergency in Sderot," said Alon Davidi, a local activist, who called on residents to take to the streets in protest.
Red Dawn: 24 hours with MDA Sderot, Part I
In the early morning, about half a dozen taxis blocked the town's main street. Placards hung from the taxis, bearing slogans such as "Our children's blood should not be ignored," as well as others criticizing the government for turning their backs on the town's residents.
At around 1:30 p.m. a convoy of approximately 50 local businessmen, accompanied by police forces, began making their way from Sderot to the Ashkelon Junction to protest the economic situation in the western Negev town. By 3:30 p.m., the convoy reached the junction, and although they had threatened to drive as far as Jerusalem, the protest ended with an attempt to block the road at the junction.
Hours later, a group of angry Sderot residents held a protest in the town center, meters away from city hall. The protesters burned tires, blocking one of the town's main roadways, and chanted slogans demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resign.
However, not all Sderot business owners were willing to take part in the protest. "We have to earn our livings," said the owner of the local supermarket to one of the protesters, who did not accept his refusal to take part in the demonstration.
"We can't let them keep playing with our lives," responded the protester, adding, "You should be ashamed of yourself. There are more important things in life than money."
"What should I be ashamed for? I am here, aren't I? I have children to feed. This is my life, and I have no one to rely on," the supermarket owner answered.
Amid the protests, the rockets continued to rain down on the city and its surroundings, causing damage to property and trauma to residents.
An Indian restaurant in Kibbutz Nir-Am was destroyed by a rocket on Sunday evening. Firefighters battled frantically to extinguish the massive blaze that broke out, but couldn't prevent the restaurant from burning to the ground as Southern District Police Chief Cmdr. Uri Bar Lev directed emergency forces on the scene. The restaurant's owner stood behind the police tape, silent and aghast as he watched his wooden facility burn to the ground.
Meanwhile, following disturbing scenes televised last week in which panicked Sderot residents pushed, hit and cursed one another in order to board buses out of the city under fire, the municipality announced Sunday morning that they had opened a hotline for recording the details of Sderot residents who had received subsidized relief programs, both privately- and government-sponsored.
"This is for the purpose of oversight and to prevent ugly situations," said Sderot spokesman Yossi Cohen Sunday.
Cohen said that following a Saturday night situation assessment, city leaders realized that 4,000 of the city's residents had already been evacuated to temporary "relief" programs throughout the country. Previously, he said, city leaders believed that only half that number had already been relieved. That number, he emphasized, does not take into consideration the dozens of citizens who have already received or are currently receiving hospitality from private families.
The "relief" programs were not the only positive change to come to the embattled town in recent days. In the afternoon, a portable secure room donated by a Florida family was lowered by crane near the Kalanit Park, located opposite the house of Hanna Ben Yaish in Sderot. Ten days ago, a Kassam fell opposite Ben Yaish's house, and the family's children narrowly escaped death as they made their way to the park.
At least one more such structure is set to arrive Monday morning at the local MDA station, where the tiny bomb shelter cannot fit the number of doctors, medics, and paramedics needed to provide emergency care for the town.
Since the current assault on Sderot and the western Negev began last Tuesday, police say that at least 136 rockets have landed in the area - an average of almost 20 a day. In recent days, the police's Southern District command has set up shop in Sderot, in order to establish control more quickly in the event of disorder.
Shimon Romah, the head of Israel's fire and rescue services, announced Sunday morning that reinforcements would be deployed in the western Negev town. Firefighters from across the country were scheduled to arrive in Sderot and work in 24-hour rotating shifts in order to relieve the town's exhausted rescue services.
On Monday, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal is expected to hold a conference call with heads of American Jewish organizations, coordinated by the Israeli Consulate in New York City. Sderot officials said Sunday that they'd had a long and fruitful working relationship with the New York Consulate, which is under the direction of Consul-General Arye Mekel.
Shelly Paz contributed to this report.
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