In the rockets’ red glare, Be’er Sheva still lines up for famous ice cream
As the Islamic Jihad abstinently continues to fire rockets at southern Israel, saying they would stop if Israel would cease its attacks on Gaza, Israel's southern residents continue with their lives, but more vigilant than usual.
Sixteen rockets and mortar shells were fired toward Israel Thursday and the Erez crossing was severely damaged, although no one was injured there. Despite announcing a cease-fire earlier in the week, Palestinians have continued to fire rockets into Israel on a daily basis.
A total of seven Palestinians were killed in the Israeli air strikes on Gaza between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. These included three Islamic Jihad activists and four Palestinians who were engaged in digging smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area between the Gaza Strip and Egyptian territory, who were hit when the Israel Air Force bombed the tunnels. Thursday evening two more Islamic Jihad activists were killed from the air while riding a bicycle.
Most of the rockets fired into Israel were the work of Islamic Jihad, which at the moment is refusing to abide by the announced lull in the fighting.
In contrast to the events of the week, however, Thursday evening the giant parking lot at the "Big" shopping center in Be'er Sheva had many cars, although one shopper said it was usually impossible to find a space. Thursday evening there were spaces available. The city's famous Be'er Sheva ice cream chain had a rush of customers.
"The city of Be'er Sheva continues its emergency preparations due to the situation," said the city's mayor Rubik Danilovich. "We are calling on residents to continue to remain alert and not to count on announcements of one kind or another of a cease-fire," he added, adding that he would not countenance a situation in which the current circumstances become a regular routine.
Daoud Shihab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said his organization would agree to hold its fire only if Israel stopped its attacks on the Gaza Strip. Some of the organization's leaders are currently in Egypt in discussions with the heads of the Egyptian intelligence services.
The secretary general of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shalah, however, has returned to Damascus after a round of talks in the Egyptian capital.
Most of the rockets Thursdayfell in Israeli communities near the Gaza border. Five fell in the territory of the Shaar Hanegev regional council and four others landed in the Eshkol regional council area. A Grad missile was fired at Ashkelon and landed in an open area. In addition, however, another rocket exploded near a public building in the Sha'ar Hanegev area, causing damage to the structure but not causing injuries. No injuries or damage were reported in any of the other cases.
The Home Front Command ordered local authorities in the area to impose a ban on public gatherings and to cancel public events. This resulted in the cancellation of a string of activities from the "Briza" Festival in Ashkelon to a street performances in Ashdod as well as a soccer game in Be'er Sheva. Residents of communities near the Gaza Strip were instructed to remain near their shelters. After the lull in the fighting was shattered overnight from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning, residents of the south barely left their homes in Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva, and restaurants and cafes stood virtually empty.
"There's fear and tension. We are simply frustrated. With all due respect for restraint, there's a limit. Almost a million people can't be paralyzed because of rockets," said an Ashdod resident who identified himself as Udi. "Someone has to find a solution to the situation."
Slightly further south from Ashdod, communities closer to the Gaza Strip have become used to the sound of the air-raid sirens. "Now everyone's talking about a lull. What lull? They've been shooting at us throughout the year," said Moshe, a kibbutz resident who lives near the Gaza Strip, "and all of a sudden when they shoot at Be'er Sheva and Ashdod everyone rushes to help them and talks about responding. It's just unbelievable. We residents of Gaza border communities have been attacked for years, but everyone carries on life as normal. I'm sure residents of Be’er Sheva and Ashdod will get used to it, too. It’s just not normal for people to be used to [rocket] fire."
"We won't let Hamas harm the fabric of our lives," said the head of the Hof Ashkelon regional council, Yair Farjoun. The concern among the residents of the area is hard to conceal, however. They don't intend to abandon the area but after the rocket fire on Wednesday that injured a 9-month-old baby, residents are speaking about what can be done to restore a normal routine.
"We would never leave our kibbutz," said Danny, a local resident. "We are strong but we expect the government to give us a reason to stay here and not to feel abandoned," he added.
Local authorities in the region also have to contend with preparations for the opening of the new school year. Some have said they don't intend to open schools if the security situation remains serious.