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      In Face of Kassams, Battered Town Councils Prepare to Evacuate

      Following the recent escalation of Kassam rockets in western Negev communities including Sderot, residents and their regional councils are now making plans to evacuate if the situation gets worse.
      By Alex Traiman
      First Publish: 12/31/2006, 10:23 AM / Last Update: 12/29/2006, 12:24 PM

      The Shaar HaNegev Regional Council which is responsible for 16,000 residents and students is now formulating evacuation plans if damage from Kassam rockets becomes unbearable.

      “The situation is getting worse and worse. We’re not strong. We don’t have an army behind us. We don’t have a government behind us,” said Mechi Fendel, resident of Sderot.

      Over sixty-five rockets have fallen on the besieged communities during a month-long “ceasefire” between Israel and terrorist factions in Gaza. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert clings to a policy of restraint against the terrorists, residents of the battered towns are growing scared.

      This past week, two 14-year-old boys from Sderot were critically injured in a Kassam attack.

      Local residents and leaders are growing increasingly concerned the situation may escalate even further over the next several weeks. Regional Council leader Alon Shuster has been in contact with members of the Israel Defense Forces, and is not encouraged by the reports.

      “The generals in the area are warning that situation could become much worse due to three considerations,” Shuster explains. “First, the range of the Kassams could expand to reach a larger area; second, the number of missiles fired from Gaza may increase; and third, the quality of the Kassams could improve to carry a larger explosive payload, which would inflict a much greater damage on the population.”

      If that happens, Shuster believes a plan must be in place to protect residents. “We shouldn’t be afraid to discuss this. First we discuss and then we act. It is better to talk about this situation now, then deal with it only if and when it comes.”

      However, Shuster and many local residents are not convinced the government will come to their aid, even if the Kassam threat continues to grow.

      “We invite the various government ministries to discuss this situation in advance. I expect the government to address food, housing and education for displaced residents in the event of an escalation.

      “Yet if the government will not put emergency plans into place, we are prepared to make our own evacuation plans for residents and students if necessary,” Shuster states.

      According to media coordinator for the Sderot information center for the Western Negev Noam Bedein, “It is no wonder residents want to pack their bags and leave. The people feel powerless in the face of the government.

      “The problem is, that many residents simply have nowhere to go because of their financial status. The lower classes can’t afford to leave. Houses are for sale and for rent, but there are no buyers,” Bedein says.

      “We’re going to stay because of the yeshiva,” says Fendel, whose husband David is the Chief Rabbi of the Sderot Yeshiva. “But personally, I don’t think leaving is a bad idea.”

      According to Fendel, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal has always spoken with resolve in the face of Kassam rocket attacks, insisting that residents stay in the city, rather than run to escape the terror. Yet as the situation grows worse, even the mayor is letting up on his strong stance.

      “Moyal has always said that we are strong and we will stay no matter what," Fendel asserts. "However, at the last funeral, he didn’t speak that way. He understands he cannot make people stay here under these conditions.”

      “We are not talking about leaving now, and we are not talking about leaving forever,” Shuster maintains. “We are putting into place plans to evacuate for a few days or even two to three weeks if the situation grows worse.

      “Kassam rockets are not a new problem. We have been suffering from Kassams for over six years. However, now the situation is growing more difficult, and we are afraid that we may be facing Kassams in the same way residents of the North faced Katyusha rockets [fired from Lebanon].

      “If we see such an escalation,” Shuster continues, “we will be in a much worse situation than northern residents. In the north residents were able to find protection in underground bomb shelters, as well as reinforced rooms [which are required in all newer houses and apartments].

      “In our region, we have over 5,000 apartments without protected rooms, and not enough bomb shelters to protect all our residents.