Gov't okays Gaza fortification plan

3,600 homes within 4.5km of Strip will receive secure rooms; Kassam lands near Sderot preschool.

Sderot protest 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Sderot protest 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With seven shrieking reminders plowing into the western Negev and Sderot Sunday afternoon, a ministerial committee led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved a budget of NIS 350 million to fortify 3,600 homes, within a range of 4.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, against Kassam rockets. One of the rockets that hit Sderot in the early afternoon landed in a yard between a house and an abandoned preschool, causing what police described as significant property damage to the buildings - buildings that could now be improved as part of the new government plan. The 3,600 homes - many of which are located in the Kassam-plagued city - will each gain a "secure room" designed to protect residents from rocket strikes. The overall defense plan calls for the eventual reinforcement of a total of 8,000 houses in the area bordering the Gaza Strip. The initial budget, however, is earmarked for houses seen as structurally incapable of withstanding a rocket strike and located in the most hard-hit areas, including Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim. The cabinet is expected to approve the plan - which is supported by local leaders as well as by Home Front Command top brass - next week. "I congratulate Olmert and Barak, who came to the right decision, but even so, they must declare a timetable for its fulfillment," said Alon Schuster, head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council and a proponent of the reinforcement plan. "The tenders for the projects are already ready, and we must get under way." The range of 4.5 km. was determined by the limitations of the planned Iron Dome defense system, which cannot intercept rockets at less than four kilometers. "This is not a complete solution, but it is a reasonable and appropriate solution, given the circumstances," said Olmert during the meeting. "The Iron Dome system is an excellent idea. We demand that the government look into other technological means of stopping rockets and mortar shells. The continued fortification of homes and social centers is also essential," said Schuster. Just before the committee meeting, Olmert addressed the topic of reinforcement at the weekly cabinet meeting. "We have been active on the reinforcement issue and have invested hundreds of millions of shekels in public and educational institutions," Olmert said. "We are building 13 new schools, which will be completely reinforced." Olmert reminded ministers that this was the second major move this year toward improving conditions in the Kassam-impacted areas. In January, he said, NIS 50 million was transferred "as per the commitment that was given in the Knesset to advance this issue." Nevertheless, the rockets took their toll again Sunday, with five people treated for shock following the Kassam strikes. One of the victims was taken to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital for treatment. Mark Weiss contributed to this report.