17 Qassam Rockets Strike Negev; IDF Suspends Air Strikes in Gaza

Seventeen Qassam rockets struck the western Negev yesterday, but the Israel Defense Forces conducted no aerial strikes on the Gaza Strip for the first time in more than a week.

Three of the rockets hit Sderot, with one landing as Defense Minister Amir Peretz turned out in his hometown to vote in the Labor Party primary.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Oshri Oz in Petah Tikva yesterday. Oz, 36, of Hod Hasharon, was killed in a Qassam attack on Sderot on Sunday.

The rockets that hit Sderot fell in open areas, lightly injuring one resident and causing five others to suffer from shock. Another rocket sparked a fire when it hit a wheat field near Kibbutz Miflasim. Seven other rockets landed in open fields near communities in the western Negev.

The Popular Resistance Committees and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility for the attacks.

Meanwhile, some 800 pupils arrived at Sderot's grammar schools, which opened after two weeks of disruptions due to the rocket attacks. Some 400 high school students went to schools outside the town. Altogether, some 1,200 pupils out of more than 3,000 came to classes.

Only 26 pupils arrived at the Madaim Alon junior high school yesterday, and only 21 remained after the rocket barrage. Their parents came to pick them up.

Principal Liora Fima said that the classrooms are protected, but the sports hall and lobby are not. "I'm calm when the children are in the classrooms, but at break or when they're playing, I'm very worried," she said.

When a rocket alert is heard, the school's children are supposed to have 15 seconds in which to reach a protected space. "But we don't really have 15 seconds. Sometimes we have no seconds. Sometimes five. It's 15 at the most," said Yehuda Ben Maman, Sderot's security officer.

Some 370 Sderot pupils will be taking their matriculation exams in mathematics today. The Education Ministry said that it would permit pupils to take the exam outside Sderot if they so desired, but that only five pupils asked to do so.

The exam will be held in protected rooms, in keeping with the Home Front Command's instructions. Pupils who prefer not to be examined today will be given another date for the exam. The exam begins at 1:00 P.M. nationwide and lasts five hours. More than 250,000 students are due to take the exam.

In contrast, the Southern Film Festival, which was scheduled to open in Sderot, has been moved to Netivot due to the threat of rockets.

Two delegations of residents from Sderot and the neighboring communities are scheduled to leave for Europe in the next few days on public relations missions for the Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Agency. The delegations are scheduled to meet journalists, politicians and members of Jewish communities and tell them of their experiences under rocket fire.

The first delegation will visit Switzerland, France and Belgium. The second will go to The Netherlands and Britain.

The Foreign Ministry, Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization will finance the delegations, whose itinerary will be planned by Israeli embassies and Jewish Agency offices in Europe.