Sat, Nov 18, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israelis given holiday from violence

PEACE AND QUIET A Russian business mogul known in Israel for his charitable actions has offered hundreds of families an all-expenses paid vacation at the beach

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SDEROT, ISRAEL

A child is lifted into a bus as Israelis flock to evacuate the southern town of Sderot on Thursday. Business mogul Arkadi Gaydamak is funding a trip to the town of Eilat.

PHOTO: EPA

The biggest reaction on Thursday to the death of an Israeli woman killed by a Palestinian rocket from Gaza did not come from the Israeli military.

Instead, many in this desert town that has been hit the hardest by the recent Palestinian rocket fire packed up en masse to take advantage of an offer from one of Israel's richest men for a free week at the beach.

Despite calls from some Israelis for a new invasion of Gaza after the woman's death on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled that he would respond with restraint.

The death on Wednesday of a 57-year-old emigre from Russia was the first caused by the rockets here in 16 months. But that comes as no comfort to residents of this poor town of 20,000, many of them Moroccan and Russian immigrants, near the border with Gaza.

School here is canceled frequently, and residents complain of constant fear.

"Even when the toilet lid falls, it makes us jumpy," said Ariel Cohen, 44, who was waiting for a bus with his wife and their daughter, May, 7, who had been in the same nursery class as a four-year-old boy killed by a Qassam three years ago.

After the death on Wednesday of the 57 year old woman, hundreds of families decided to accept an offer by Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian businessman known for his charitable works here but who is wanted by authorities in France for arms dealing and tax evasion, for an all-expenses-paid vacation in the southern beach city of Elat. During the war with Lebanon this summer, Gaydamak paid to relocate thousands of people out of range of rocket fire in Israel's north.

By early Thursday evening, 17 buses had taken away more than 800 people. An organizer said that buses would continue to arrive for everyone who wanted to go.

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