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      Sderot´s Shutdown Postponed for Presidential Visit

      Sderot's close-down-the-city strike has been postponed in honor of President Moshe Katzav's visit this afternoon. Two hunger strikers fainted Sun. night, but the demand for security continues.
      By Hana Levi Julian and Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 6/19/2006, 2:08 PM / Last Update: 6/18/2006, 8:49 PM

      City officials decided in an emergency meeting Sunday evening to raise the stakes in the struggle to get the government to protect their residents. “We’re closing down the town. No one will be able to get in or get out,” announced Mayor Eli Moyal after he met with city council members. "As of tomorrow, Sderot is on strike."

      The decision to completely seal off the city, allowing no one in or out, includes Sderot resident Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Food deliveries and emergency vehicles were exempted from the ban.

      As of this morning, however, the close-down has been put on hold, in honor of the visit by President Moshe Katzav. Katzav is expected to arrive at 4 PM, accompanied by Defense Minister Peretz - an elegant way for him to avoid being locked out of his own hometown.

      It is not clear at this time whether the city will shut down tomorrow, or whether the postponement will be more long-term.

      Following a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today, member Matan Vilnai (Labor) said, "We must cause Abu Mazen to be worried about the Kassams... We are all in a tizzy, while the Palestinians go about their business." Member Effie Eitam (NU/NRP) said, "There is total consensus in the committee that without a deterrence-causing action, we will not be able to overcome the Kassams. The heads of the Hamas must be cut off."

      The city’s children will start their summer vacation today. Report cards will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Moyal said. “I assume they will have to solve this problem," he said. "I don’t want to be responsible for this as well.” The school year was to have ended on Tuesday for high school students, and on June 30 for youngsters in elementary schools.

      The most recent Kassam rocket hit last night in the city center, near the public library, sending two women into shock. Earlier yesterday, the city’s Rabin neighborhood was left in the dark after a Kassam rocket hit an electricity pole, leaving residents powerless for several hours.

      ***As this story goes to press, two more Kassam rockets were fired at Sderot or nearby during President Katzav's visit, causing no damage. See below for other late-breaking terror-related news.

      The rocket attacks of the past weeks hardened the resolve of the mayor and city council members to take their protests to the streets. It was also decided at the emergency meeting that a number of residents would begin a camp-out in Jerusalem across from government offices.

      “None of the government ministers care about Sderot,” charged Moyal. “The residents are exhausted. They cannot continue without the government doing something.”

      Five hunger-strikers, meanwhile, continue their fast outside the Peretz family home, where they have subsisted for more than a week on sugar water and vitamins in an effort to force officials to take effective action to end the rocket attacks. The two women who were taken to the hospital after fainting last night have returned and are continuing their strike. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch visited the strikers today.

      The government voted to approve a 7.5 million shekel allocation for summer camps and other educational activities for children in Sderot. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority also scheduled a day of recreational activities at the Yarkon National Park for 750 children from the Kassam-battered town, funded by donations from private companies.

      Amid plans to entertain the children, however, is the sobering reality that construction on the fortification of schools and public buildings is yet to begin. Peretz told reporters last week that he expects the reinforcement to be completed for “most of the schools” by September.

      Moyal recently announced that the city would not hold summertime activities because of the Kassam threat. “If the government cannot provide the city residents with security, it should resign or say it outright,” said Moyal.

      In other terrorism-related news, three 11th-grade girls from Maaleh Levonah were very lightly hurt when Palestinian terrorists shot at their school bus between Shilo and Ofrah in the Binyamin region. The incident occurred around 3:30 this afternoon. Two girls were also treated for shock. IDF forces combed the area afterwards.