The Israeli army is preparing for the possibility that Palestinian armed groups would improve the range of makeshift rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, with the Home Front Command drafting plans to expand the protection zone around the tiny coastal territory to 20 km, three time wider than currently.
The plan includes the fortification of schools and strategic sites in cities that lie within the new boundaries at the cost of NIS 1.4 billion (USD 331.8 million).
The new initiative is based on estimations that the conflict with the Palestinians will protract and that rocket fire will be most relied-upon weapon in the fight against Israel.
About 50,000 residents live within the 7-kilometer wide zone, and expansions to 20 kilometers will bring that number to 162,000.
Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim are among the cities to be included in the danger zone.
The IDF will complete the protection of all schools within the current zone by March 2007.
The army said that 81 out of 151 kindergartens in the area have been fully protected and fortification work on another 58 will be completed by February.
In 21 out of 46 communities in the area have been fitted with electronic fences and emergency rooms.
NIS 285 million have been invested in the settlements lying within the range of Qassam rockets over the last two years.
More so, some 4,000 households in the current zone lack shelter rooms. In Sderot alone, 900 out of 1,250 households lack such facilities of life-saving qualities in the Qassam-battered town.
Costs of setting up such facilities in all households in the area would cost NIS 1 billion (USD 237.5 million).