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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

IDF: Pullout to expose 46 Negev towns to Qassams

Forty-six communities in the western Negev will be exposed to Qassam rocket fire after the disengagement plan is implemented, a Home Front Command official told lawmakers yesterday.
Colonel Uzi Buchbinder, head of the civil defense department at the Home Front Command, told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee that all of the threatened communities are within seven kilometers of the the Gaza Strip and are vulnerable to both rocket fire and infiltration.

The communities include Yad Mordechai, Or Ha'ner, Erez, Gevim, Kfar Aza, Miflasim, Nahal Oz, Nir Am, Ein Habesor, Ein Hashlosha, Talmei Yosef, Gvar-Am, Netiv Ha'asara, Be'eri, Holot, Dekel and Yovel.

Buchbinder briefed the committee on a Home Front Command plan designed to provide solutions for the threatened communities, including an early-warning system to alerting residents of incoming Qassam rockets, installing safety glass at schools and kindergartens throughout the region, and upgrading the physical protection for the population. Windows in school buildings have already been reinforced. Buchbinder said that NIS 340 million is needed to implement the plan, but that the funding has not been approved.

Colonel (res.) Mordechai Yogev of the National Security Forum presented the committee with a report that said that "the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will bring numerous large population centers and communities within the range of Qassam rockets and mortar shells, including Ashkelon in the south and the cities of Beit She'an, Afula, Pardes Hannah and Hadera in the north."

Yogev said the greatest danger is anticipated to be in the Ashkelon region, home to many strategic facilities, including three power stations - the Rotenberg power station and two others, facilities related to the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline, and the massive gas tanks moved from Pi Gelilot near Tel Aviv to Ashkelon, as well as the large gas terminal to be built south of Ashkelon for the natural gas Israel will buy from Egypt. Up north, Qassam rockets will threaten the "Rabin Lights" power station in Hadera.

In the course of a committee session devoted to post-disengagement measures in the border communities, the deputy head of the National Security Council, Itamar Yaar, said that "as of today, the NSC does not have a sure-proof solution to Qassam rockets fired from short range."

According to Yaar, all of the territory to be evacuated under the plan are currently under IDF control, including areas in which there are Jewish settlements. By contrast, the Qassam rockets targeting Sderot are being fired from territories which are not under IDF control. He said that it is very important that the IDF provide solutions to security threats originating from areas with no Israeli presence.

The committee's chairman, MK Yuri Stern (National Union), said that "the disengagement plan is one of the most irresponsible decisions a government of Israel has ever taken. Any rational person who lends a hand to this will be called upon to give a reckoning some day."