Olmert Calls Evacuation of Sderot a 'Millionaire's Promotional Trick'

PM joins Peretz, Netanyahu in slamming the free Eilat vacations offered by Arkady Gaydamak.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized business tycoon Arkady Gaydamak on Sunday for financing a free weekend in Eilat for 800 residents of the rocket-battered western Negev town of Sderot.

"All throughout our history in this land, even during much tougher days, we never fled our homes," said Olmert. "We will not lend a hand to these magic solutions which are good for two or three days, but may lead to disastrous results in the long run."

"Specific incidents will be dealt with on an individual basis, but to load people on buses and evacuate them to five-star hotels? That is absolutely not the government's policy," the prime minister said during a a meeting on the continued rocket fire against Sderot.

"The evacuation of Sderot residents was carried out on the basis of irrelevant considerations," he said, calling the free vacations in Eilat a "millionaire's promotional trick."

Sderot mayor Eli Moyal responded and said, "The national leadership and the local leadership need to make a decision not to leave. We are not packing up."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also slammed Gaydamak and said, "Any decision on an evacuation demands good judgment. I don't think Israel has to resort to abandoning [towns]."

Peretz said that a center will be set up in Sderot in order to help residents and local municipalities deal with the rocket fire. He called on the government to evaluate options for economically reimburse Sderot residents who have suffered financially.

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized the evacuation of Sderot, during a Likud delegation tour of the western Negev town Sunday.

"Escaping the city is not the solution," said Netanyahu. "We need to use deciding forces in order to solve this issue." Netanyahu said.

Likud party members, including Limor Livnat and Reuven Rivlin, visited the area where Fa'ina Slutzker was killed by a Qassam on her way to work.

Israel Radio reported Sunday that Gaydamak maintains he is not playing a political game, but "I just want to help Jews."

According to the Education Ministry, 2,000 Sderot students did not attend school Sunday because of their stay in Eilat. In addition, 600 elementary school students did not attend school because they were on trips throughout Israel, as part of a planned activity initiated after last week's Qassam rocket firing.

Sderot municipal education director Miriam Sassi said eleventh and twelfth graders are scheduled to start an intensive study retreat to catch up with their peers nationwide. However, Sassi says the program may be postponed because such a large number of students are in Eilat. Other programs are also planned for this week to take school children out of town.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 420 Qassam rockets and mortar shells landed inside Israel since the beginning of the year. This is a decline from last year, when 487 rockets and shells landed.

323 Palestinian rockets and shells hit inside the Gaza Strip this year, which is a sharp decline from 2005, when 943 rockets landed in the strip. This is due to the fact that last year, many of the rockets were fired at Gaza settlements in the Katif bloc, prior to the disengagement.

Since 2001, Seven people have been killed in 1,487 Qassam rocket strikes in Israel.

MKs Amira Dotan and Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) proposed that Knesset committee and assembly meetings should be held in Sderot in order to show solidarity with the town. They maintain that their proposal has symbolic meaning, coinciding with the slogan "we will stay despite the terror." They also proposed that each week, a different Knesset committee should tour the city and conduct weekly meetings there.