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Anna, who is in her fifth month of pregnancy, rubs her stomach and tries to stay calm as she waits in the crowded line at the Ashkelon employment office early in the morning. "I left a well-paying job I had worked at for a year and a half in Sderot because I had just gotten pregnant and was afraid for the baby," said Anna, who asked that her last name not be used.

"I can't forget a colleague who was pregnant and fainted during a rocket alert, and my girlfriends who live in Sderot told me that they had miscarriages because of anxiety over the alerts. So I preferred to give up the money and the job. It's funny, everything I ran away from came here," she says.

"I was under huge pressure all during the war. I was afraid to come here this morning. Yesterday I went out for the first time with my husband and our little boy and the slightest noise made me anxious. There's a feeling that our economic security has been hit more now because of the war. The situation in Ashkelon is not good and no one wants to hire a pregnant woman."

An employment counselor joins in with a joke: "We miss the Qassams, we're like drug addicts." "We're all still stressed out," another adds.

L.K., 40, who has lived in Ashkelon for 20 years, approaches a computer to sign in. "I hope they don't tell me to go to a clerk," she says. To her disappointment, the computer instructs her to speak to a counselor. "I was widowed four years ago and now I'm on welfare. I have been offered only jobs in cleaning or working with the elderly and I don't want these. During the war, rockets landed near the house and we don't have a room reinforced against rocket attacks," she says.

"I called the municipality to open the neighborhood shelter, but nothing was done. I was afraid and ran to relatives in another city. I didn't sign in at the Ashkelon office and I realized that I could sign in at the office in the area where I was, but I had no idea where it was," she says. "I have no idea whether this will hurt my monthly income; I'm afraid to ask the clerk, she's very tough on me."

Natalie Patritzky, sitting next to L.K., says that two months ago she quit her job in the factory where she had worked for seven years. "I have two daughters, ages 7 and 7 months, and I couldn't stand on my feet from seven in the morning until seven in the evening, so I quit," she says. "The period of the war was stressful economically - the psychological tension, the worries, the rockets and also one less salary at home. I am ready to take anything they offer."

A few minutes later Patritzky leaves the clerk and says she had been offered a job at an ice cream factory. "I'll try, but I still don't have an arrangement for the baby," she says.

Compared to the tumult in Ashkelon, the stream of job seekers coming to the employment office in Sderot is thin. "This is depressing," the reception clerk says. "It's not even connected to the war." At 11 A.M., Larissa Kuzin, 47, arrives. "I was scared to come in this morning. I don't believe quiet has returned. I was afraid to leave the house. I still walk along the street next to the wall out of fear a rocket is going to land suddenly."

Although her six-month eligibility period has ended, Kuzin says she showed up to ask advice on how to find a job. "I'm stressed out and depressed. My daughter has become very dependent and we have the feeling that no one recognizes us as suffering from stress," she says, tears in her eyes. "My husband moved to the center of the country to get a job. The war was very hard, with the fear and no job."

Juliette, 58, who also declined to give her last name, is handicapped and receives NIS 1,745 a month in welfare. "I was glued to the TV and radio during the war and never left the house. The welfare people didn't come to see me. There's no grocery nearby so during an alert I was afraid to go out and often I didn't have anything to eat in the fridge," she says.

"They said there were food packages in the halls in the industrial zone, but since I'm handicapped I couldn't get there to pick them up. Donors were also going around, but I didn't meet up with them; I only saw them on TV."