Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Barak seeks OK to hit residential areas (in Gaza)

Barak seeks OK to hit residential areas

Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the government on Sunday to examine ways of approving IDF action against residential areas in Gaza from which rockets are fired at Israel.

Speaking during the weekly cabinet meeting, Barak said many rockets were fired from the vicinity of residential homes and schools, precluding an Israeli response due to fear of harming civilians.

Around 60 rockets and an unknown number of mortars have fallen on western Negev communities since last Tuesday evening, when the IDF raided a tunnel 250 meters inside Gaza that the army said was about to be used to kidnap troops.

In response, Barak has ordered all border crossings with Gaza to remain shut until further notice.

The Defense Ministry has also called on the government to approve an extra NIS half-billion to construct rocket-proof protective structures and complete safety rooms for 4,400 Israeli housing units in the Gaza periphery.

During Sunday's meeting, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter warned that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have improved their rocket capabilities and range, placing cities like Ashkelon - where Dichter resides - in their crosshairs.

He added that Hamas's heavy mortar shelling of the region presented a threat that could not be detected by the Color Red rocket alert system. He called for the installation of the Iron Dome rocket shield, set to be in place by 2011.

Some 8,000 homes are situated within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

On February 24, the government agreed to allocate NIS 327 million for the first stage of a program to to build security rooms for all older housing units within that radius. The first stage calls for building reinforced security rooms for all homes with tile roofs in 12 of the 21 communities within that radius.

In stage two, the government is to provide reinforced security rooms for apartment buildings with concrete roofs in Sderot. In the final stage, the government is to build reinforced security rooms for houses with tile roofs in the remaining nine communities within the 4.5-km. radius.

The communities slated for the third stage have petitioned the High Court, charging that the government is discriminating against them and in favor of the 12 communities included in the first stage of construction.

Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.