Ashkelon Mall Back Open After Attack, but No One Shopping

A day after a Grad Katyusha rocket struck Ashkelon's Hutzot Mall, the city is making an effort to get back to its routine.

A day after a Grad Katyusha rocket struck Ashkelon's Hutzot Mall, the city is making an effort to get back to its routine. The stores are open and the music is blaring, as usual, but the shoppers who usually fill the mall fail to show up.

"Zehavit, are you managing the crowd?" Hagit Yefet, a store owner, asks her idle employee.

In the afternoon, store owners meet representatives of Hosen, a branch of Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, in an attempt to prevent cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. The business people speak about their experience the day before and their fears.

In the rest of the city it is mostly business as usual and the streets bustle. The Katyusha threat, the alert system that failed, and the solution - or lack of one - are the main topics of conversation.

"Things are very bad. You walk in fear and nobody tells you that this situation will end at some point. Hamas is developing all the time, they promised to reach us and they did. Now they say they'll reach Ashdod," says Yitzhak Atoun, 65, in the diner on the Migdal pedestrian mall.

"You must not show them that we're scared," interrupts his friend, Uri Kamali, 67. "Don't say it. They must understand that we have no other country. Where can we go, tell me?"

"How long can this go on?" adds Atoun. "Each generation brings the next one up on hatred. What will our children remember? Katyusha and Qassam rockets? How long do we still have to live? We want peace, quiet."

Another man, Yisrael, believes that the strike on the mall justifies a harsh military response. "We go back to our routine and the city is recovering. Instead of making it clear that we won't take it lying down, the government and people continue to swallow it and do nothing. This wouldn't happen somewhere else," he says.

Diner owners Hagit and Evyatar Anchel say their fears for their children and business have increased. "I'm afraid for my family. My daughter goes to the mall from time to time and I'm appalled to think of what could happen to her there," says Evyatar.

Elena Sherman came to Ashkelon's arts school yesterday, as did most of its pupils. Sherman and five of her friends planned on celebrating her birthday at the mall when the rocket landed.

"I'll remember my 10th birthday," says Sherman.

"There was an explosion, people screamed and pushed each other. Some had blood stains and it was frightening," says her friend Shani Yitzkayer.

"There was panic and they scared us," says Shahar Lavi. When the rocket fell the children were afraid that their parents, who were on their way to the mall to bring them money, would be hurt. "We thought rockets fell outside as well," he says.

Sherman is angry that her day was ruined, but does not know at whom to direct her anger. Her friends have promised to organize another birthday party for her.