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London 23:27, 18 Mar 2012
Tel Aviv 01:27, 19 Mar 2012

Ambassador visits Sderot, impressed by 'spirit of town'

31 May 2011

Matthew Gould meets Sderot mayor, visits Ashkelon to see first-hand the security issues facing southern Israel.
Ambassador Gould looking at Qassam rockets

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould visited Sderot and Ashkelon in southern Israel today - his first visit since taking up his posting here in September.

In Sderot, he met with Mayor David Buskila who described the residents' daily life and the challenges they face. The Mayor said: "Believe me that I feel bad for my children, for the children that live here in Sderot, but I also feel pain for the children that live in the other side of the border in Gaza ... This situation that the children from this place and the other place is because of the behaviour of the leaders of the terror organisations. We can create another quality of life, it is so close."

The Mayor pointed out that at the closest point, Sderot is just 840 meters from Gaza. "We remember the days when the people from Gaza used to come to work in Sderot," he told the Ambassador.

Ambassador visits southern Israel

The Ambassador said that Sderot has acquired a special place in the view of the world because the residents' lives represent the meaning of Israel's lack of security. "People like me, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary talk about peace and security, but what it actually means is the lives that you and your citizens have to live every day. It was very important for me to come here and see for myself what this means so that when I talk about Israel's security, I know not just the concept, but the reality for you and your citizens.

"But as much as I've been saddened by the impact of the conflict, I've been very impressed at the spirit of your town," he said.

In Sderot, the Ambassador stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Gaza and visited the Hesder Yeshiva where he met with the rabbi and saw a Hannukiah built out of Qassam rockets. He also visited a reinforced, secure playground in the city's industrial zone, built through the support of the JNF, that provides a safe play area for 500 children. There, Ambassador Gould met children from a local school, and asked them what they thought about living in Sderot. The clear message that he got from the children was that though they have to constantly think about their security, and where the nearest shelter is, they are regular children, who love their city - and are simply growing up in a slightly different reality to other children their own age.

The Ambassador also stopped at Sapir College, and visited the city of Ashkelon. There he heard from Mayor Benny Vaknin about the city's ambitious plans for expansion, and how they too are dealing with constant threat of missile fire. The Mayor also emphasised to Ambassador Gould that the city still fondly remembers the close involvement of the UK Jewish community in Ashkelon, and has incredibly warm feelings towards Britain because of the support received through organisations such as UJIA.

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