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Ynet: "Dichter: Sderot is a battered and empty city"

'As I entered Sderot I saw desolated streets. People are shutting themselves in their houses,' he says

2/9/08

Internal security minister visits southern town hit by dozens of Qassam rockets over past week, says fifth of residents have left their homes. 'As I entered Sderot I saw desolated streets. People are shutting themselves in their houses,' he says

by Yonat Atlas

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter visited the southern town of Sderot on Satuday after more than 30 Qassam rockets were fired the western Negev since Friday morning.

"I found a battered city. Twenty percent of its residents have got up and left," he said. "The residents have harsh feelings, because they believe the end of the Qassams is not in sight." One of the places Dichter visited was the Peretz family home, which was directly hit by a Qassam rocket Friday evening.

He listened to a teenage boy, a relative of the family, who told him that he was scheduled to go on an annual school trip to Mount Hermon on Sunday, but that he felt uncomfortable leaving his family in Sderot. The minister promised the boy to take him on a visit to Jerusalem and the Knesset on Monday, instead of the school trip.

Dichter said following the visit that Sderot's residents told him that they were living from one miracle to another and that more people than usual had attended the Shabbat prayers at the local synagogues.

"When I drove towards Sderot," the minister recounted, "I saw masses of people arriving in the area for the Darom Adom (Red South) Festival, but as I entered Sderot I saw desolated, empty streets. People are shutting themselves in their homes."

Dichter plans to tell his fellow ministers about the visit during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.

Thousands attend festival in south

While Sderot was almost empty, thousands of people from across Israel arrived Saturday at the Darom Adom Festival which takes place on the weekends of February.

As part of the festival, various activities are held in southern kibbutzim and visitors can view the blossoming anemones.

Ophir Libstein, one of the event's organizers, said that "at first we were afraid not many people would show up because of the Qassams, but judging from the thousands of people who arrived here today we understand that nothing will stop the Israeli people from touring the area. The anemone carpets in our area are amazing and we have organized dozens of activities for all ages."

Michal Ben David, who arrived at the festival with her husband from the town of Shoham in central Israel, said, "I am not afraid, and judging from the amount of people here it appears that no one is concerned over the security situation.

"We did not stop visiting the north when it the situation was tense there, so there is no reason why we shouldn't arrive here as well. In the meantime it's quiet here and the anemones are amazing."