Qassams Continue Striking Sderot After Fatal Day

Two more Qassams struck Sderot yesterday evening, damaging a house in the city. This was the third salvo of the day, and came after a Hod Hasharon man was killed by a rocket while driving.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Knesset State Control Committee members visited the city yesterday, where they slammed the poor planning and construction of protected spaces in schools. Members of the Israel Manufacturers Association (IMA) were also in town yesterday, touring industrial facilities in the wake of reports that many employees have not been showing up for work, in many cases due to a lack of proper protection.

Sderot's students attended classes at various schools in the southern district. Only a quarter of the town's 500 pupils showed up.

In the first salvo of the day, Palestinian militants fired two Qassam rockets yesterday morning. One landed at around 9 A.M. near the municipal pool, killing Oshri Oz, 35, from Hod Hasharon. The other landed two hours earlier near the community center, damaging the building.

The Qassam that killed Oz was preceded by an alert. An eyewitness, a career army man, said he signaled to Oz to stop, but Oz just waved and drove on. The eyewitness said Oz got out of his car after the explosion, walked a few steps and collapsed.

The evening salvo came moments after the Israel Air Force fired missiles at a Hamas military position along the coast of southern Gaza, as part of expanding efforts to curb the rocket fire.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed an order recognizing Sderot and locales within an eight-kilometer radius of Gaza as "frontier" communities. The order also includes the southern industrial zone of Ashkelon, Sapir Academic College and area farms, gas stations and tourism facilities. Such recognition will allow businesses to receive compensation for indirect damages.

To receive the compensation, which will be retroactive to May 16 when the bombardments started, an application must be made to the Israel Tax Authority. The Knesset Finance Committee is to approve the order, which will remain in effect at least until the end of August.

Lindenstrauss and the Knesset State Control Committee met at the Sderot Municipality, where the findings of the January 2006 State Comptroller's report were discussed. These included serious shortcomings in the preparedness of the army and civilian elements for Qassam attacks. The report noted that there had been insufficient planning of protection for local buildings, and that the state had not prepared, purchased or manufactured the necessary equipment to intercept the rockets.

Participants discussed the current reinforcement of schools, noting that the current method is to reinforce one space in the school that the pupils have to reach within 15 seconds of an alert. Following a petition to the High Court of Justice against this method by Sderot's security committee, the government decided to build reinforced classrooms for grades 1-3. The rest of Sderot's schools are still protected in the older way.

Control Committee chairman Zevulon Orlev noted that this method was insufficient, leading to an argument between Defense Ministry deputy director Victor Bargil, and the commander of the Home Front Yitzhak Gershon. Gershon said the method of protecting spaces in the schools had been dictated by Defense Ministry budgetary constraints, while Bargil said the Home Front Command had presented this plan as best.

Orlev said the clearest proof that no one believed that the reinforced areas of the schools would work was that the children were taken out of Sderot to attend classes elsewhere.

The IMA said absenteeism at some of Sderot's factories had reached 40 percent.