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Numerous MKs sharply criticized the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's decision yesterday to approve the extension of the "special situation" in Sderot and other communities along the border with the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided last week to seek cabinet approval to extend the declaration, due to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire into the southern Israel communities from the Gaza Strip.

The declaration essentially transfers emergency authority from the state to the army. Therefore, the IDF Southern Command can determine whether or not schools will remain open, and the Home Front can order factories containing dangerous materials to close their doors.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that the transfer of command over the rocket-weary communities from the hands of the state to the military was a "blow to democracy," and that the Knesset committee cannot serve as a "rubber stamp."

MK Limor Livnat (Likud) asked why this decision was necessary, and inquired in what ways the Israel Defense Forces had invoked the authority granted under the "special situation" declaration during the past month. MK Yisrael Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu) also criticized the government's decision.

Defense Ministry Director-General Pinchas Bucharis, however, said the declaration had great significance, because of the moral support if gives to the residents of Sderot and other communities.

Residents affected by the special situation are eligible to be compensated for damages suffered as a result of the declaration.

The government approved Barak's recommendation that the declaration be extended, in a vote carried out by telephone last Friday. The proposal was then brought before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for its approval.

The cabinet approved the formation of a national emergency authority.

Meanwhile, the security cabinet approved the establishment of a national emergency authority, headed by IDF Brigadier General (res.) Ze'ev Zuk-Rom.

The authority - expected to begin operating next month - will function under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, and be responsible for managing and coordinating between all rescue services and relevant government agencies such as health care services, fire departments, and the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command.