Police assured the country's top cop that despite long hours and amid reports of theft in abandoned houses throughout the north, police morale remained high, and that police forces were managing to cope with the hardships presented by almost two weeks of shelling.
In meetings at the police stations in Meona, Safed and Kiryat Shmona on Monday, Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi heard local commanders detailing their reinforced presence on the streets, systems for quickly responding to Katyusha strikes, and efforts to prevent the theft that has recently been revealed in neighborhoods where the residents have mostly fled to the south.
Safed has suffered heavy damage in 12 days of strikes - seven houses took direct hits, as did two schools. Another rocket landed only a few meters away from the Ziv Hospital, where injured soldiers and civilians from Upper Galilee were being treated. Three civilians were killed in the Safed area including a grandmother and grandson when the house in which they were staying received a direct hit.
In Safed, the usual number of police patrol cars on the street has been quadrupled through reinforcements sent to the city from police units and training courses in other parts of the country. Safed station commander Ch.-Supt. Amos Shimonie told the police chief that more than 200 Katyushas landed in Safed and its environs, but that bomb disposal teams removed less than 50% of the rockets, flagging those rockets that landed in isolated areas for disposal after the situation calmed. All in all, Shimonie said, it took police approximately 30 minutes to deal with each individual rocket strike.
Shimonie also described the social services that police provided beyond their "regular" duty. A small ensemble of the police band has been touring Safed bomb shelters to entertain residents, some of whom have barely left the small rooms in 10 days. A few days ago, police received an emergency call from a mother whose disabled son was not answering his home telephone. Police arrived at the house, found that the phone had been disconnected in one of the barrages and gave the man a cellular phone, as well as calling the phone company and arranging for the phone line to be repaired.
But Yishai Maimon, the mayor of the largely working-class city, which is also the home of the IDF's Northern Command, told Karadi and a representative from the Prime Minister's Office that the greatest concern was not the Katyushas themselves but the welfare crisis that gripped the city as a byproduct of rocket strikes.
The banks have been closed for over a week, and residents, particularly from the poorest sectors of the town, who do not own credit cards were left without money to pay for food. Maimon said that the municipality has fielded multiple calls from residents begging for food. In addition, he said, if some of the thousands of people who fled the city chose to return, he said, the city's shelters were too few to absorb the influx. Maimon also expressed concern that the prolonged overcrowding in shelters could lead to outbreaks of disease.
But his biggest fear, he said, were elderly and disabled residents who were abandoned in their houses. Maimon begged the police to send teams of mental health personnel to go house-to-house to check on the state of residents.
"I am afraid that we have elderly who have been left at home by their families," Maimon said, warning that such people could starve, neglected, in their own homes. "If such cases exist in our city, may God have mercy on all of us."
The concern was repeated by Yossi Kuchi, who arrived in Safed representing the Prime Minister's Office. "There could be such a phenomenon in the city, and terrible things could be revealed after the situation calms," he said, reiterating the request that police "carry out searches to find people rotting or hungry in their own homes." Karadi responded that he would immediately send teams to begin house-to-house searches. Although 50 mental health officers and counselors were dispatched to Safed Monday evening, they were kept away by heavy rocket barrages and searches were set to begin Wednesday.
In both Safed and Kiryat Shmona, the local detectives had been tasked with putting an end to looting. In Kiryat Shmona, Police Chief Dept.-Cmdr. Faraj Faris said that detectives operating in the city, from where over 50% of the town's 25,000 residents are believed to have fled, have already proven their abilities. One team caught a thief red-handed as he attempted to break into an empty house. The would-be looter had traveled almost two hours to take advantage of the situation while police were busy responding to rocket strikes in the city. Faris said that police were checking all trucks and vans entering and exiting the city to try to prevent property from being smuggled out.
In Kiryat Shmona, Mayor Haim Barbibai told Karadi the low casualty rates were due to the fact that the civilians in the city were well-drilled in rocket attacks, and tended to follow security recommendations closely. In the more than 230 rocket attacks in and around the city, fewer than 20 people were injured. Instead, he said, the damage could be measured in its impact on the already-beleaguered industry in the northernmost corner of the country. Thirty dairy cows were killed when two rockets landed in Kibbutz Amir's cowshed as they were being fed. A factory in the area was badly damaged by the initial strike, as well as the ensuing conflagration.
In both Safed and Kiryat Shmona, Karadi asked about the psychological state of the police officers. Shimonie reported that he had one patrolman who is a single father, and a couple who are married and have children. None of the three, Shimonie said, was willing to stop working, even after they were offered the option of taking a paid vacation in order to care for their families.
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