Ashdod Residents Unfazed by Report of Rising Hamas Threat

Ashdod security head: Evacuation plans are in place, but city lacks an early-warning system against rockets.

The report by Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin at the cabinet meeting Sunday, stating that Hamas has the capability to launch rockets at Ashdod and Kiryat Gat, did not surprise people in that area.

"It's to be expected. We knew in the end that they would reach Ashdod, too," said local resident Avi Dvir. Dvir was at the Mei Ami beach with his family and sister, who was on a visit from Holland.

"Of course, I'm worried about the lives of my four children, but there's not too much we can do. We're not going to leave town, but the government has to make some decisions," Dvir added. "It is going on everywhere in the country. First Sderot, then Ashkelon and now Ashdod."

Ashdod's population of approximately 230,000 lives in impressive apartment houses and its shopping centers are bustling. Mayor Zvi Zilker noted that the city has some 80 so-called strategic facilities - including a power station, oil refineries and the port. "One successful rocket strike at the port will destroy all the imported and exported merchandise there," Zilker said.

The mayor added, however, that the city is ready for emergencies. Indeed, according to the municipality's head of security, Colonel (res.) Aryeh Itah, most local homes have a reinforced room, and "about 56 of the city's 70 shelters are ready for residents, and the others are in good condition."

Itah said evacuation plans have been drawn up, and schools and rescue services are prepared for emergencies, but he admitted the city did not have an early-warning system against rockets.

Leon Friedland, owner of the Integral, a downtown restaurant, said he went into debt after serving in the reserves during the Second Lebanon War.

"I had just opened the restaurant and I'm the only cook. It took me a year to get out from under. If there's another war, I'm selling everything and leaving," declared Friedland, who has a four-year-old daughter. "We'll go somewhere quiet. If the government doesn't do something to stop the rockets, I won't wait until they hit my house."

Dvir's sister Esther, who has lived abroad for 25 years, said she is in favor of a "strong" military operation in Gaza. "My vacation is ruined," she said. "I don't understand how people can live this way in fear. There's nothing like this in Holland."

The family asked to have a smiling group picture taken at their table on the beach at sunset.

"Send this picture to [Prime Minister] Olmert," said Esther, "and tell him we want to keep enjoying ourselves."