Locals told to stay close to shelters as more than 80 rockets fall

IDF ready to evacuate elderly, handicapped• Army to decide whether schools can reopen Tuesday, after Hanukka break.

Soon after the IDF began a massive aerial assault on Hamas targets in Gaza at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, people living within 10 km. of Gaza, including in Sderot, were ordered to stay in their homes. In addition, the IDF imposed a ban on public gatherings within 15 km. of the Strip. Kassam warning sirens blasted throughout the region. More than 80 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel by the evening. Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared a "special situation on the home front," transferring civil authority within the area to the IDF. The order authorizes the army to close factories and schools as needed and to help local councils to continue functioning despite the rocket attacks. People living 10-15 km. from Gaza were ordered to stay within 15 seconds of a secure room or bomb shelter. Residents of cities and towns 15-20 km from the Strip - including Ashkelon and Netivot - were ordered to remain within 30 seconds of a secure room. Public gatherings of up to 100 people are allowed, but only indoors and under a concrete roof. Those living 20-30 km from Gaza - including in Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rahat and Kiryat Malachi - were ordered to stay within 45 seconds of a secure room. Residents are allowed to leave the secure rooms or bomb shelters five minutes after hearing an explosion or the "Color Red" warning, if not instructed otherwise. The Home Front Command called up a number of reservists on Saturday to beef up staff in towns within rocket range. Soldiers from the command were inspecting bomb shelters and rocket warning systems. There were, however, reports that some rockets struck Sderot without a warning being sounded. The IDF did not plan to evacuate residents from Gaza-periphery communities at this stage, a senior officer said, but had a plan in place, if needed, to evacuate the handicapped and elderly, estimated to total at least 1,000 people. Schools are closed anyway until Tuesday, for Hanukka, and the Home Front Command will decide on Monday whether they will reopen after the holiday. "The Home Front Command and the defense establishment will work to assist the residents of the area," Barak's office said in a statement. "We are expecting a period that will not be easy or brief, and we need to be determined and steadfast until we achieve the necessary change in the South." The IDF believes that Hamas is capable of firing close to 100 rockets a day. Hamas is believed to have thousands of short-range Kassam rockets and several hundred longer-range Grad-model Katyushas. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin told the cabinet last Sunday that Hamas also had an undisclosed number of rockets that were capable of reaching Beersheba.