The Defense Ministry yesterday stopped the evacuation of Sderot after some 2,500 residents left the city, and many remaining citizens demanded action to protect them.

Dozens of residents stormed the office of Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal after learning that the evacuation had been halted because of the large number of residents demanding accommodations and low availability.

More than 2,200 residents left town in buses organized by the authorities, and many families departed on their own to stay with friends or relatives elsewhere. In addition, Russian-Israeli tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak provided some 1,600 residents with hotel rooms in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva, which he personally funded.

Schools in the town were closed for the second day in a row.

Around 700 residents were evacuated by the Defense Ministry early in the day to facilities run by the Association for Soldiers' Welfare in the area, and some 320 elderly and disabled people were evacuated by the Social Affairs Ministry.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the plans for the move had already been made seven months ago during the previous rocket barrage on Sderot, but were not implemented because the bombardment had abated.

He strongly denied that yesterday's evacuation was in response to Gaydamak's efforts.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has opposed evacuating Sderot, the home town of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, where one rocket slammed into a house near the defense minister's home on Wednesday. Peretz has proposed that sizable numbers of residents be brought out of the city for a "break" from the attacks, which have continued sporadically for the last five years.

Following the increasing Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot, the Defense Ministry has opened two command centers there and dispatched more than 100 soldiers to go from door to door and see if residents need assistance.

Dozens of social workers have also been sent to attend to the town's 2,300 elderly citizens, 350 disabled people and 80 people with intellectual disabilities who are registered with the bureau.

Yesterday evening the Defense Ministry halted the evacuation, leaving behind hundreds of residents who had registered to go and had been waiting for hours. The angry residents stormed a news conference being held by the mayor and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to announce a donation for renovating shelters.

When IFCJ president Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein saw the residents' distress he offered to step in and finance a weekend away from Sderot for 350 people, instead of the Defense Ministry.

The Social Affairs Ministry, 10 organizations for disabled people and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Fund yesterday set up a joint emergency headquarters in Sderot. They intend to send psychologists to the homes of people with disabilities and purchase 45 special beepers for deaf people to enable them to receive rocket alerts.