Despite Reassurances From Officials, Few Families Return to Gaza-border Homes After Cease-fire

With school year set to start on Monday, mayors still in watchful waiting mode.

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Israelis mourn next to flower wreaths covering the grave of Shahar Melamed, 43, who was killed the previous day by Palestinian mortar fire in Kibbutz, August 27, 2014.
Israelis mourn next to flower wreaths covering the grave of Shahar Melamed, 43, who was killed the previous day by Palestinian mortar fire in Kibbutz, August 27, 2014.Credit: AFP

Only a few of the many families that had left Israeli communities adjacent to the border with the Gaza Strip during the fighting returned home on Wednesday. The rest, it seemed, are waiting to see if the cease-fire that went into effect Tuesday evening would hold before coming back to an area that in the day preceding the truce was hit by 116 rockets and mortar shells.

Mayors and local council heads in the south held consultations on Wednesday as they considered whether to allow the new school year to open in their communities on Monday as scheduled.

A man from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha who asked to be identified by only his first name, Meir, said he and his family planned to return only on Friday. He cited fears of mortar shelling of the kind that on Tuesday killed two members of nearby Kibbutz Nirim. “We don’t feel we can rely on anyone and it will take a long time for us to recover from the traumas of this war,” Meir said.

Eshkol Regional Council chairman Haim Yellin advised residents of the area to return to their homes as soon as 48 hours of total quiet had passed.

“For two months we’ve all been living in a war zone,” he said. “The State of Israel decided not to permit attrition, but we’re coping with a war of attrition by every measuring, absorbing incessant and intense fire on our communities. This cease-fire will have to prove itself over time so that we can evaluate its significance.”

Kibbutz Nirim members Ze’ev Etzion, 55, and Shahar Melamed, 43, were buried Wednesday afternoon. Their deaths, about an hour before the cease-fire went into effect, brought the Israeli death toll during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge to 70 soldiers and civilians.

Etzion was the kibbutz’s security coordinator for many years, a long-time Magen David Adom volunteer and the kibbutz ambulance driver. He is survived by his wife Nava and five children.

Melamed ran the kibbutz’s garage and also worked at irrigating the kibbutz fields. He is survived by his wife, Anat, and three children.

A large group of residents returned to the area two weeks ago during one of the previous cease-fires, after weeks of moving from place to place, and stayed despite the renewed bombardments.

Liron Bar of Moshav Kokhav Michael, in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, said that when the rocket fire resumed they didn’t leave again but felt trapped inside their home, with its safe room. “We didn’t leave the house with our 21-month-old daughter for a week because we were afraid there would be a siren; we didn’t even go to the playground. We’re essentially trapped and we feel helpless,” she said.

After four weeks of being hosted in various places further north, they had returned because of Bar’s work.

“I’m very skeptical about what’s going to happen next,” she said. “The plan is to go up north for the weekend, because we have to rest a little from these intense months. While we didn’t have rockets like the Gaza border we felt a lot of danger and fear, and my daughter kept hearing explosions and interceptions all the time.”

As schoolteachers and principals continued to plan for the first day of school on Monday, mayors in the south said they would allow schools in their community to open as scheduled if the cease-fire holds. “We will open the school year if the cease-fire is upheld and in accordance with instructions from the Home Front Command,” Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri said.

“Now there’s a cease-fire but we’re awaiting developments,” said Gan Yavne Local Council chairman Aharon Dror. “The school year will open on September 1 if the quiet is preserved. We’ll know more about where we’re heading as the day comes closer.”

Several cities began to sum up the damage they’d suffered during the fighting. Ashkelon, for example, was targeted by 277 rockets, of which 160 were intercepted, while the others fell in open areas or in the city itself. There were 163 buildings and 139 cars damaged during the past two months. Be’er Sheva was targeted by 190 rockets, of which 63 were intercepted, 121 fell in open areas and six fell in residential neighborhoods.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel during the operation. Of those, 735 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and 3,641 of them landed in Israeli territory, 224 of them in built-up areas. The IDF attacked 5,262 targets in the Gaza Strip.

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