Slightly more than half of the residents of confrontation-line communities near the Lebanese border who have left their homes paid for the move themselves or with the assistance of private organizations, according to statistics provided last week by the Prime Minister's Office.
PMO Director-General Ra'anan Dinur said about 96,000 people had left the area within nine kilometer of the border, while some 80,000 had remained, according to information provided to the government by the local authorities involved.
Out of those 96,000 who have left, some 22,000 received government assistance. The government plans to help an additional 9,000 residents take a break for a few days this week, and another 16,000 next week, said Dinur, speaking at a press conference at a new governmental assistance center set up by the PMO south of Acre.
Dinur said the government had begun to focus on helping people take short breaks from the area.
"We do not assume the conflict is going to end this week," he said. "We think it is very legitimate that after 28 days of war that the residents are asking to be taken [temporarily] out of the North."
If necessary, Dinur added, the government could help some 60,000 people leave the area.
Throughout the hour-long press conference, which was interrupted by a warning siren that sent everyone to the basement shelter or the hallways, Dinur refrained from using the word "evacuated." Instead he spoke of "options" or "to refresh," as governmental plans allow for residents of the North to take temporary breaks from Hizbullah rockets but do not provide for them to be absent from their homes on a long-term basis.
The longer the IDF operation in Lebanon continued the more the government "will be pressed to find solutions" for northern residents, Dinur said. The priority was "weaker sectors" such as children and senior citizens, he said.
Dinur said he took issue with the "harsh attacks" in the media against governmental efforts. The media had every right to be critical, he said, "but it's task is to check its facts."
On Tuesday alone, he said, the government, with the help of nonprofit associations, distributed 28,244 meals to people in bomb shelters. Approximately 21,000 children were sent for a day of activities and some 12,000 people enjoyed activities in nature reserves, he said.