Qassam in Sderot school
Photo: Amir Cohen
Defense Minsiter Amir Peretz
Photo: Yoav Galai
Defense Minister Amir Peretz instructed the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry Director-General Jacob Toren to prepare an immediate plan to fortify schools in the Gaza vicinity communities, following the fall of a Qassam rocket in a Sderot high school Sunday morning.
Peretz is expected to meet soon with Home Front Command Chief Gershon Yitzhak to discuss the progress of the communities' fortification.
"The lives of the children in the schools and kindergarten should be top priority," the defense minister said.
The increased launching of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip may not only cause the IDF to work more intensively, but may also change the communities' fortification plan.
Some NIS 210 million (about USD 47 million) have been approved so far for the communities' fortification plan, and a considerable part of the sum was allotted to the communities of Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom and Nativ Haasara, which are near the border fence. It was also decided to mainly fortify kindergartens for children aged up to six.
So far the Home Front Command received NIS 158 million (about USD 35 million), and a considerable part of the operations have already been completed. Other operations are being carried out these days through private contractors.
As a rule, schools are not fortified, apart from reinforced classrooms in some places and other improvisations. The ceiling of one school in Sderot was fortified at a cost of NIS 4 million (about USD 896,000), but most of the money is destined for the fortification of preschools.
In the original program, which cost about NIS 1 billion (about USD 224 million), plans were also made for the fortification of schools, but in actual fact only one-fifth of the sum was approved and the schools were excluded from the program.
"If a decision is made to fortify the schools," IDF sources said, "there will be need for additional budgeting. In addition, a decision will have to be made on the necessary level of fortification for the school."
The sources noted that even if such a plan is accepted, a considerable period of time may pass until the money is received, the plan is approved and the work is implemented.
"It is obvious that any landing of a Qassam rocket in an educational institution causes panic and raises the issue on the public agenda. In actual fact, the schools' fortification will necessitate a broad budget and exact planning. If this is what the defense minister decides, we will know who to implement it for the best," a military source said.
'A warning sign'
Home Front Command officials explained that there is an instruction not to teach in classrooms on the top floors of schools located around the Gaza Strip, for fear a rocket will directly hit the building.
"The instruction was backed by the regional council head, but the schools are not implementing it," an official said.
Knesset Member Shai Hermesh (Kadima), a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, said Sunday that "the landing of a Qassam this morning on a Sderot school is another warning sign of the risk hidden in delaying the fortification of education institutions, which is being conducted sluggishly."
"There are at least three education campuses in the range of the Qassams, and their fortification should have been conducted in parallel to the Gaza evacuation. Regarding some of the education institutions there is not even an initial fortification plan," he charged.
IDF officials ascribed the Qassam launching Sunday morning as a response to the army's assassination of Islamic Jihad member Muhammad Dahdouh on Sunday evening. The missile also killed Dahdouh's family members, including a four-year-old child.
Israel Air Force Chief Major-General Eliezer Shakedi referred to the assassination, saying that "in the Gaza operation we managed to hit the person responsible for the launching of Qassams and developing long-range missiles which were recently fired at Israel."
"We have been looking for him for a long time. We are in a very difficult war and have managed to significantly reduce incidents in which people who are uninvolved are hurt," he said.
Shkedy also referred to Peretz's request to probe the incident.
"From my point of view, this is not an unusual request. We conduct an inquiry on every incident, and we shall do so also regarding this one. We have to understand exactly how the civilians were hurt in the operation yesterday, whether as a result of the operation itself or for other reasons," he said.
"Yesterday we used two missiles to hit the center of the car in which the terrorist was driving. Although there was traffic on the road, the operation was not unusual. We will conduct a thorough inquiry in a bid to understand what happened there," he concluded.