Court: State Must Reinforce Classrooms in the South; MKs Grant Sderot NIS34m

The High Court of Justice today ruled that the Defense Ministry must fully reinforce all classrooms in Sderot and in communities around Gaza rather than maintain "protected spaces" in schools.

The petition was brought by the Sderot Parents Committee and a grass-roots committee working for reinforcement, in light of an experiment in March where only 43 percent of pupils reached the protected spaces in the 15 seconds between the alarm and the rocket strike.

The court rejected the state's argument that only certain classrooms, such as laboratories, should be reinforced. "It is unreasonable to put parents in the dilemma of realizing their children's right to be educated or to protect their lives," the three-justice panel, headed by Court President Dorit Beinisch, said.

The Knesset Finance Committee yesterday approved NIS 34 million for Sderot and communities around the Gaza Strip, as well as for the North. Among other allocations, NIS 10.5 million was earmarked for hotel rooms for residents whose homes have been hit by Qassams and for damage appraisers. NIS 5 million was allocated to the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority for war damage in the North; NIS 6 million will go to reinforce the hesder yeshiva in Sderot and NIS 1.5 million for social rehabilitation of Sderot neighborhoods.

The security cabinet is to discuss today the conditions under which Israel would agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. A government source in Jerusalem said yesterday that Hamas was under increasing pressure because of the number of Palestinian casualties in the Strip and arrests in the West Bank. The source also said Hamas and Islamic Jihad were finding it difficult to launch Qassams because of Israel's military actions, and the number of launches has been falling as a result. The source said Israel had rejected the first offer for a cease-fire and "it remains to be seen what they will offer subsequently."

Three rockets were fired at the western Negev yesterday. One fell around noon near a western Negev kibbutz and another rocket fell in Sderot while students were taking a matriculation exam. Education Minister Yulie Tamir said in a visit to the school that consideration would be given in grading the students because their concentration would have clearly been impaired by the attack.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet tomorrow with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas after a postponement due to escalation in the Gaza Strip. Their meeting is to be held either in Jericho or Jerusalem.

Sderot's 300 business people held a meeting yesterday to discuss their situation. They said they would initiate a public campaign to ensure their rights were protected, and would close down the industrial zone this morning.

The Gaza Division command headquarters ordered the cancellation of a Kibbutz Movement council meeting, planned for tomorrow at Kibbutz Be'eri in the Negev as a show of solidarity. "We have been living here for seven years, that's not dangerous? Let them take care of reinforcement, and it won't be a problem," Kibbutz Be'eri member Haim Yelin said.

The Agriculture Ministry is to help farming communities around the Gaza Strip to speed up the harvest of 43,000 dunams (approximately 10,000 acres) of wheat and other grains.

The ministry will be footing the bill for the rental of additional combines and overtime to harvest workers for communities in a seven-kilometer radius around the Strip.