Gov't mulling NIS 400m. plan to bolster Gaza periphery structures

Kadima MK Shai Hermesh believes that Monday may have been a turning point in the protracted efforts to reinforce residential buildings in Sderot and rural communities in the Gaza Strip periphery against Kassam rockets. "When we look back on this day, we might decide that this was a landmark day," he said after taking part in a meeting with representatives of the Construction and Housing Ministry, the IDF Home Front Command, the state housing company Amigur and others. "We could see today that the government is serious about its intentions to reinforce the homes," Hermesh told The Jerusalem Post. The rub is that the Housing Ministry has not yet agreed to fund the project, which has an estimated cost of about NIS 400 million. But Hermesh said he believed the money would be forthcoming. Hermesh added that the government appeared to be in step with the timetable it established in January during a meeting attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, the heads of the four regional councils in the Gaza periphery and Hermesh. At that meeting, Olmert announced that he had changed his mind and now agreed to reinforce the housing within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip. Since then, the Housing Ministry has been planning the construction, but the project has still not left the drawing boards. According to Moyal, there has not been a single request for a building permit in the city. The project will be an extensive one. According to the Sderot city engineer, there are about 7,000 housing units in the city of 23,000. Of these, only about 1,000 were built with security rooms in accordance with government regulations issued after the first Gulf War. Furthermore, 900 to 1,200 units have tiled roofs that Kassam rockets can easily penetrate. According to Alon Shuster, head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, there are about 4,000 housing units in the Gaza periphery, many of which also have tiled roofs. Six years after terrorists began to fire Kassams into the region, there are 58 public bomb shelters in Sderot and of these, only 28 are fully operational. In a recent interview with the Sderot Information Center for the Western Negev, Yehuda Ben-Mamman, the city's security officer, said that the rest were either flooded, unconnected to electricity and water, or had other problems. But public shelters are hardly an effective solution to the Kassam threat. At best, residents have 20 seconds from the time of the "Color Red" alert to reach a shelter. Residents have also been waging a battle to reinforce the schools in Sderot and the Gaza periphery. On March 17, 2005, the cabinet authorized NIS 280m. A small portion of the money was earmarked to reinforce some of the kindergartens in the area. No money was allocated to reinforce the primary or secondary schools. It wasn't until last June that the cabinet decided to reinforce the schools, after a Kassam exploded in the courtyard of a school in Sderot. The government allocated NIS 75m. to reinforce 24 primary schools and eight secondary schools. Four months later, the Sderot Parents Association and the Headquarters for the Struggle to Restore Security to Netivot petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the state reinforce the roofs of all the schools or find an alternative solution. There have been several interim decisions since the petition was filed, but no final verdict has been handed down. Batya Kassar, head of the Parents Association, told the Post on Monday that the government has not fully secured the schools. Most of the high school classrooms are unprotected, she said. "I want to be sure the children are safe 100 percent of the time," she told the Post. "I don't want to rely on luck."