Noting a slight reduction in the Kassam fire on Israel, defense officials predicted Monday that if maintained at their current level, the ongoing IDF operations in the Gaza Strip could drastically reduce the rocket attacks within three months. Still, while fewer rockets - 13 - fell on Sderot Monday than the average since the increase in the violence on May 15, the Negev town continued to suffer from attacks that kept students away from schools and disrupted voting in the Labor primary. Emergency services reported that one person was lightly wounded. Soldiers who were nearby when a rocket hit the town's cemetery were treated for shock.
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Sderot pupils returned to school following an extended break, but only 811 of the 3,000 registered pupils reported to class.
Defense officials claimed that while Hamas and Islamic Jihad were still succeeding in launching rockets, the fire was becoming more sporadic, an indication that the daily IDF air strikes were having an impact on the terrorists.
The IDF planned to continue with its pinpointed air strikes throughout the Gaza Strip over the next week, the officials said, noting that the security cabinet was scheduled to convene Wednesday to discuss the operations.
Additional troops have been deployed along the Gaza border and may be sent to reinforce forces operating in the northern Strip to thwart Kassam attacks. Nevertheless, defense sources said the government did not plan to authorize a large-scale ground operation.
The air strikes appear to have hit Hamas hard, forcing the movement's leadership underground. The Palestinian Authority cabinet held its weekly meeting on Monday, but Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas didn't attend - keeping out of sight, as he has done since the first attack Thursday on the Shati refugee camp where he lives.
"Ismail Haniyeh did not attend the meeting for security reasons," PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said. Hamas representatives also skipped a meeting Sunday night that Palestinian factions convened to discuss the possibility of a new cease-fire, because of security concerns, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Three rockets struck the town in the morning, as Sderot resident and incumbent Labor Party chief Amir Peretz appeared at the party's polling station to vote in the primary.
"If there is an answer to terrorism it is that the State of Israel is alive and breathing and that elections are taking place in Sderot," Peretz said. "Despite everything, Sderot residents will prove that Hamas does not frighten them and will come vote at the polling booths."
In the early afternoon, another Kassam landed in the western Negev without causing damage, and shortly after 6 p.m., two rockets more were fired. One started a fire in a wheat field near Kibbutz Mefalsim.
The wheat harvest is under way, and it has been badly affected by the Kassams, which frequently ignite large and highly destructive fires. In this instance, kibbutz residents succeeded in putting out the fire with the help of with tractors and local firefighters. Last week, a fire in a wheat field at nearby Kibbutz Nir Am also damaged crops.
Despite the rockets, Sderot continued to slowly come back to life Monday. A steady stream of residents returned from weekends spent out of the Kassam zone, and for the first time in a week, downtown was filed with traffic and pedestrians.
Only 161 of 900 children registered in nursery schools and kindergartens came to class. They met in secure rooms and bomb shelters, because 15-20 seconds warning might not be enough to get them to a secure location if the Color Red siren sounded.
In preparation for matriculation exams, 11th- and 12th- graders were bused to calmer environments in nearby cities, including Beersheba and Ashdod. The math matriculation examinations in Sderot are expected to be held on Tuesday. Local students, municipal officials said, expressed interest in holding the exams in the town, where approximately 370 students are set to participate.
Municipal officials said the test would be held in accordance with conditions set by the IDF Home Front Command. The Education Ministry announced they would allow any students who wished to take the examination outside of the town to do so. Students will also be permitted to take the exam at a later date. But as of Monday evening, only five students had requested to take the exam outside of Sderot.
After a day with relatively few official visits, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim was expected to visit on Tuesday. Sderot has a large proportion of immigrants, particularly from the Caucasus and Ethiopia. Ministry officials said that during the recent upswing in violence, they have been hosting activities for immigrants in the city.