South hit by 849 rockets during war

Economic leaders say emergency funds needed to save local businesses.

ashkelon kassam damage 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Ashkelon Municipality [file])
ashkelon kassam damage 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Ashkelon Municipality [file])
A total of eight hundred and forty nine rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza during Operation Cast Lead (December 27-January 18), according to police figures. The rockets killed four people, seriously wounded eight, moderately wounded another nine, and caused 51 people to suffer light wounds. Paramedics also treated a total of 295 people for shock. Emergency officials and local authority heads attribute the relatively low casualty rate to residents' adherence to Home Front Command safety instructions. Roads and buildings in cities, towns and villages across the South sustained widespread damage from rocket craters and shrapnel fallout, including metal balls placed in the rockets which fly out in all directions upon impact. The Interior Ministry has proposed a NIS 300 million aid package for the South to help the region deal with reconstruction efforts. Beyond the physical damage, local businesses and manufacturers have faced severe financial losses as customers remained indoors and local consumer spending went into a tailspin. On Sunday, an emergency conference organized by the Knesset Lobby for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses and the Ashkelon Municipality was held in Ashkelon. Business leaders, industrialists, and small business owners discussed emergency proposals designed to kick start the local economy. Lobby chairman Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) dismissed an earlier proposal by Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to establish a fund to provide quick loans to businesses facing financial ruin, describing the measure as "a PR exercise." "After an in-depth examination of the needs of businesses owners facing collapse, we have created a practical plan that will be submitted to the finance minister in a week. The current plan of the ministry is completely cutoff from reality and is irrelevant to 95 percent of businesses which require real and immediate assistance," Meseznikov said during the conference. As the South enjoyed its first rocket-free day in three weeks, local authorities gradually began to bring children back to school. In Ashkelon, 11th and 12th graders are scheduled to resume full studies on Tuesday, but Mayor Benny Vaknin has opted for a cautious approach and has decided not to send the remainder of schoolchildren back to classrooms at this stage. "The mayor would like to receive a clearer picture on the nature of the cease-fire and how closely it is being adhered to," a press release by the Ashkelon Municipality said. Other local authorities said full studies would resume for all grades on Tuesday, as well as in colleges and universities across southern Israel. Meanwhile, the Israel Police said it would downgrade its operational level of alert from C [the highest] to B on Tuesday.