In Ashkelon, life settles after cease-fire

City streets buzzing and there appeared to be no shortage of residents enjoying what seemed to be escalation's end.

A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Hours after a cease-fire was declared late Monday night, normal life appeared to have returned to Ashkelon Tuesday morning, following four days of rocket strikes on the South from the Gaza Strip.
Located only 13 km. north of Gaza, the city is a popular target for rocket crews in the coastal territory. Since Friday, the escalation in the South has caused a serious disruption in daily life for the city’s more than 100,000 residents.
The streets of the city were buzzing by Tuesday and there appeared to be no shortage of residents enjoying what seemed to be an end to the escalation. The IDF also announced that due to the quiet, classes would resume on Wednesday, following three days of cancellations for all schools within 7-40 km. of the Gaza Strip.
Though a sense of calm had returned to the city, Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center remained in a higher state of alert Tuesday, with patients from the children’s and neonatal wards still being treated within bomb shelters, following an order given out by the Home Front Command on Monday.
Hospital spokeswoman Roxanne Lift-Kozokaro said that after the order was given, the 500-bed facility began an assessment of which children absolutely had to remain in the hospital, and began discharging patients to make room. Out of the 33 patients in the children’s ward, some 13 were sent home and the rest were moved into a shelter located in the nursing school across the street from the hospital. The need to save space meant sending home a number of children who in different circumstances would still be hospitalized, she said.
In addition, the first phase of construction of the fortified emergency room being built at Barzilai will only be ready in 2014, and will have room for only 300 beds, she said.
Because of the school cancellations, the hospital also set up a secure daycare for around 100 children of hospital staff, who otherwise would be at home alone.
When asked how hospital employees deal with such times of escalation in the south, Lift-Kozokaro said that “there are those who are afraid or tense, but really it’s something they’re used to, it’s become routine.”
Ruth Dadiya sat outside the above-ground bomb shelter, where around a dozen premature babies in incubators were being treated. She is the young mother of Avivit Eden, born nearly a month earlier after only 25 weeks of pregnancy.
Dadiya, who has spent the past 24 days at the hospital with her premature baby, was already in a situation of heightened stress weeks before the latest round of rockets and IAF air strikes on Gaza began.
“We were already in stress before all of this began, but at least here [in the shelter] we feel safer,” she said, adding that her daughter’s health has stabilized since her birth.
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At the city’s Hozot mall on Tuesday, life seemed to be back to routine, with a steady stream of customers milling around the shopping center.
Downstairs next to the building’s large bomb shelter, two young mothers played with their children at the mall’s bowling alley.
Rinat Shwartz, 36, said the visit to the bowling alley was the first time she and her three children left the house in three days. Being coopedup in the house for 72 hours began driving her and her children crazy, she admitted.
“They start to go crazy. Not only do they have nowhere to go, but they also hear the Code Red [siren] and have to stay next to the safe room at all times.”
Shwartz, along with her friend, is a schoolteacher and has had the past three days off. She said that her children slept well during the escalation and that they have become accustomed to the recurrent rocket fire on the city, but that regardless it still takes its toll.
“You raise your kids under the shade of fear, but I’ve never thought of living anywhere else,” Shwartz said, then returned to the lane where her children were waiting.