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The threat that Hamas' ballistic capabilities pose to the people of the Negev is less serious than initially presumed and the residents of the targeted areas are not demonstrating signs of panic, according to an interim analysis by the Israel Defense Forces of the situation nearly a week after the launching of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

The analysis, which the IDF compiled with the Defense Ministry, also said the authorities' ability to tend to the needs of the population has much improved compared to their performance in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who toured the Negev yesterday with Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilani, said that Hamas' capabilities "cannot be compared" with those of Hezbollah.

In six days of fighting, Hamas has fired some 350 rockets into Israel. In 2006, Kiryat Shmona and its immediate surroundings alone took 1,000 rockets.

These figures show that IDF officers and defense experts overestimated Hamas' ballistic capabilities so far, which were said to allow the organization to launch up to 200 rockets every day while under fire from launcher-hunting Israel Air Force crafts.

Of the 350 rockets that Hamas has fired since Saturday, at least 40 were Katyusha rockets with a range of 40 kilometers. In some cases, Hamas' rockets even reached 43 kilometers from the launch sites.

Vilnai nonetheless added that should the IDF mount a ground invasion into the Strip, Hamas is expected to pick up the pace and take more risks in launching rockets.

A marked improvement

"The significant change since the last war is the level of commitment which the state feels toward its citizens," Vilnai said. "The State of Israel is functioning quite well in the south.

The municipalities understand their responsibilities to their residents and the degree of coordination between the National Emergency Authority and the home Front Command and the various authorities is quite high."

In what can be seen as proof of the improved performance under fire, the National Emergency Authority recently turned down a request by a charity that wanted to supply 400 meals to the people of Sderot.

The nonprofit, the Rashi Fund, was answering a call for help which the municipality issued, but sought to receive the Authority's approval as per Vilnai's instructions on charity. In a move which would have been almost unthinkable in 2006, the authority informed the Rashi Fund that its help was unnecessary, and that the authorities would provide the donation.

The authority was set up following the Winograd Committee of inquiry into the performance of decision-makers during the Second Lebanon War, and under Vilnai, the authority's leadership has made an effort to demonstrate that it is in control of the situation.

The demand that all charity projects and municipality works go through the authority is presumably part of that effort. In preparing for the current round of hostilities, the authority's staff received guidance and counseling from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other large charities, while exercising emergency scenarios.

In carrying out its missions on the ground, the bodies that coordinate relief efforts for the people of the Negev with the authority rely on several hundreds of Home Front Command soldiers which the army has put at their disposal.