kassam damage 298.88.
(photo credit: Channel 2)
In a visit to his hometown of Sderot on Monday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz toured a school that had suffered a direct hit from a Kassam rocket and conceded that anti-Kassam protection measures for schools and kindergartens in the Western Negev won't be in place by September.
"The chances that we will complete all the reinforcements before the beginning of the start of school in September seems a fantasy to me," said Peretz, who, along with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, met with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and the heads of the Eshkol, Ashkelon, Sha'ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regional councils.
The comments came a day after Sderot's Netiv Yeshivati School was hit by a Kassam and Peretz ordered OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon to prepare a plan for the "immediate" protection of schools in Sderot, saying "nothing comes before children."
Also at Peretz's request, Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Ya'acov Litzman (UTJ) announced on Sunday the transfer of NIS 52 million to fund the reinforcement of 42 kindergartens. The estimated cost of protecting just the kindergartens in the area near the Gaza Strip is NIS 210m., according to officials at the Finance Ministry.
Uri Naamati, head of the Eshkol regional council, said that NIS 70m. for adding protection to schools near Gaza were transferred to the municipalities yesterday, after a year of bureaucratic wrangling. Preparing the sites for construction would take three months, and the actual work another three months, Naamati said.
When Sderot's comptroller voiced frustration with the bureaucratic delays, Peretz said the Defense Ministry would form a team to coordinate the ministries' work in an effort to accelerate the transfer of funds.
During the meeting, Moyal and the regional council heads demanded that their towns be recognized as frontline communities. The frontline designation would make the communities eligible for tax benefits and other government assistance. Peretz said he would raise the issue with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert upon his return from Washington.
Parents and teachers threatened a strike if the reinforcements are not in place for the beginning of the 2006-07 school year.
"How can it be that nothing has been done for eight months?" asked Sofi Ben Shoshen, head of the parents' association at the Netiv Yeshivati School. "It cannot be that my children will continue to be vulnerable. So what if no one was hurt? Everybody here is panic-stricken. You need to protect our schools, our children are there most of the day," she said.
Tamir announced that Sderot students would receive extra time for their matriculation exams.
At a meeting at the Kirya General Staff Headquarters in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Peretz told American security envoy Gen. Keith Dayton that the rocket attack on the school constituted an escalation and that he and the defense establishment would act decisively against those responsible, "utilizing all the tools at our disposal."
However, on Monday Peretz dismissed calls from Moyal to deal with the Kassam threat "at its source." Peretz said that the IDF would continue with its policy of shelling launch sites and sending airstrikes against terrorists who launch and develop missiles, while working to minimize casualties among innocent residents of Gaza.
A spokesman for the IDF's Southern Command confirmed the army did not plan to change its the current anti-Kassam measures as a result of the direct hit on the school.
Approximately 400 Kassam rockets, launched from Northern Gaza, have landed in Israel since the Gaza disengagement, according to IDF sources. Some 20 have landed in Israel in the last two months, a significant decrease from previous months and one that army officials attribute to use of artillery against launch sites.
No Israelis have been killed by rockets launched from the Strip since the pullout nine months ago.