Barak cabinet 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Following a major escalation in rocket fire on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided Tuesday to declare a "special security situation" in all Israeli towns and cities located within a 30-kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, the day after Operation Cast Lead began, Barak had declared a special security situation in the south in communities located within a 20 km. radius of Gaza.
The declaration grants the Home Front Command the authority to close factories, cancel conferences and events, and to conduct other civilian activities. It also enables the security establishment to play an active role in city affairs alongside local authorities.
The cabinet is required to approve the special status over the next two days, as it has already done for Gaza periphery communities. Under the order, schools will remain closed in all towns located within the 30 km. radius, including Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Sderot and Kiryat Malachi.
"It is important the public heed our instructions," said OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan. "Had the civilians killed in Ashkelon and Ashdod [on Monday] listened to the instructions, their lives would have been saved."
Golan said that the IAF's bombardment of Gaza had impaired Hamas's rocket firing capability but not wiped it out.
"This capability exists throughout the entire area and while it was hit hard, it was not eliminated," he said during a press conference in Ofakim where a rocket scored a direct hit on a home Monday night.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the construction site in Ashkelon on Tuesday where Hani al-Mahdi was killed the day before and said that there were still difficult times ahead for Israel.
"It is important to listen to the Home Front Command," Barak said, adding that the resolve of the municipalities and local councils within the Gaza envelope would "be tested" in the coming days.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said that there was no need for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Sheetrit said that the government was determined to eliminate the threat of fire on residents of the South and that the IDF must not end its operation until Hamas's will to fire had been broken.
If Israel gave up, he said, it will not have achieved anything. Sheetrit emphasized that the IDF was operating with utmost caution so as not to hurt civilians in the Strip, and said that supplies and medicine were being transferred to Gaza.
"The time has come for Israel to say: Our citizens come first," he was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met President Shimon Peres on Tuesday morning and updated him on Operation Cast Lead. Olmert said that the military action in Gaza over the last few days was the "first stage of a series of measures that the cabinet has approved."
Peres emphasized that Israel was not fighting against the Palestinian population but a terror group that had "raised the banner of violence and undermined stability in the region."
"There is no one in the world who understands why Hamas is continuing to fire rockets at Israel," he continued.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to the report.