PMO: Protection for Negev communities unlikely to be finished by '09

In letter to community leaders, Olmert rejects request to boost funding for protected rooms.

Kassam trauma 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassam trauma 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
It is unlikely that people living within 4.5 km. of the Gaza Strip will be provided "full protection" from Palestinian attacks by the end of next year, even though planning for the first phase of the project has already begun, according to Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur. He sent this information to the heads of the western Negev communities in a letter dated June 30 that only reached them on Tuesday. In it he rejected a request by the Gaza-periphery community leaders to add to the NIS 327 million already budgeted for protected rooms. "Even if the full budget were allocated [for the project now] there is no guarantee that the project would be finished by the end of 2009," Dinur said. Therefore, he added, "I do not see any room to debate an addition to the budget at this stage." The words drew a sharp rebuke from the community leaders, who believe that the project would go faster if more money was available. They were also concerned about the lack of a timetable. "Money here will save our lives," said Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yelin. Most residents have no protected rooms in their homes, and they live within striking distance of mortars that are more accurate and more deadly then the Kassam rockets that Gazans have fired against them for the past seven years, Sh'ar Hanegev Regional Council head Alon Schuster said. The mortars are new this year, he added. Worse, he said, there is no effective warning system against them. Schuster said he was particularly concerned because he and other area leaders leaders had recently received a security briefing in which they were warned of the dangers they faced should the cease-fire be broken. The residents needed secure rooms to weather that threat, he said.