Olmert, Peretz Agree to Speed Up Protection for Sderot

9 Qassams hit Sderot, western Negev on Saturday; Peretz swipes at IDF chiefs, says Israel failed to defend its citizens.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz agreed Saturday night to speed up the protection of homes in Sderot and communities around the Gaza Strip, in the wake of days of Qassam rocket attacks fired by Gaza militants.

The agreement, which will be discussed in Sunday's cabinet meeting, states that 200 safeguarded rooms will be built each month, with construction beginning immediately.

The two also agreed to attempt to shorten the bureaucratic process required for the work. Olmert and Peretz said that they would both instruct the director-generals of their respective offices, Ra'anan Dinor and Pinchas Buchris, to make the safeguarding of Sderot homes a top priority.

Russian-Israeli tycoon Arkady Gaydamak visited Sderot on Friday in order to examine the problem of protecting resident's homes. Gaydamak estimated that the protection of 3500 families would cost NIS 60 million and could be completed within four months, although this would only include apartment buildings and not private homes.

The agreement reached by Olmert and Peretz follows a day in which nine Qassam rockets hit Sderot and the western Negev. The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday that in the past four days, some 110 rockets have been fired into Israel.

A Qassam rocket hit a parked car in Sderot on Saturday afternoon, another damaged a factory Saturday morning and a third caused a fire. One woman was treated for shock.

Shortly after the first Qassam rockets fell this morning, Peretz said that the state failed tremendously in protecting its citizens from the threat of rockets.

Peretz blamed the failure to develop a satisfactory rocket defense system on the ministers that preceded him in the defense post, as well as former IDF chiefs of staff, in particular the last defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who served as military chief from 1998 to 2002.

"If someone had handled the rocket issue five years ago, we would be in a completely different situation today," the defense minister told Israel Radio.

"Someone decided that the [rocket] fire on Sderot is statistical, and there is no reason to invest in [preventing] it. The threat facing Sderot is not a statistical threat, but a strategic threat," he added.

Three Qassam rockets landed in the western Negev on Saturday morning. The first landed in an open field, causing some damage to a nearby building. The second and third rockets both landed in the western Negev city of Sderot, causing a fire to erupt in a field. No injuries were reported in all three incidents.

Police preparing for possible Qassam strike on AshkelonThe southern district police commander said on Friday that police are taking steps to prepare for a Qassam strike on the southern city of Ashkelon. Commander Uri Bar-Lev said that police have been placed on high alert in Ashkelon and have expanded their presence in the city and in communities near the Gaza Strip.

At least 16 Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants landed in the western Negev, at least nine of them hitting Sderot on Friday.

Two Sderot residents were lightly wounded and several were treated for shock Friday as a result of the rocket attacks. In one such attack, a Qassam hit a residential building in the Negev town.

A woman was treated for shock after a Qassam rocket destroyed a residential building in a separate western Negev town Friday night.

The rocket fire intensified this week, sparking an Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip that began Thursday.

Palestinians fired some 30 rockets on Israel on Thursday, and about the same number on Tuesday. One of the rockets fired Thursday slammed into a high school on the outskirts of Sderot, lightly wounding two people. Two others were wounded Tuesday, one of them in moderate to serious condition.

Hamas' military wing has announced that it will execute anyone who attempts to interfere with the rocket fire on Israel, Israel Radio reported Friday.

Arcadi Gaydamak unveils plan to provide security for Sderot families

Billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak announced plans for providing security for Sderot's residents, during a tour he made of the city with a contingent of private security experts.

Gaydamak's plan would not entail the securing of private free-standing homes as was originally thought. Rather, his plan would call for building large, secure buildings for 3,500 families in the city, at an estimated cost of NIS 60 million. He said the project could be finished within four months.

Opposition leader Netanyahu makes visit to SderotOpposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said during a Likud faction visit to Sderot on Friday that Israel's government has a duty to protect the town and evacuate its citizens.

Netanyahu said the evacuation of Sderot's citizens is the job of the government, not of a tycoon. He was referring to Russian-born Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, who privately funded the evacuation of 1,600 citizens Wednesday and their accommodation in hotels.

Netanyahu reiterated that only military measures will lead to the cessation of Qassam attacks.

He said comprehensive military action is required to gain control of the areas in Gaza from which the Qassams are fired, but that the government has no such long-term plan.

When asked whether he believes a ground operation in Gaza would necessitate a continued military presence in the Strip, he said this was not a concern for him. "There would be no reason for the IDF to stay in Gaza, just as they didn't stay in south Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War," he said.

"More pressure needs to be put on the Palestinians," he added.

The Ministry for Immigrant Absorption and local municipalities have cooperated to arrange hotel rooms for hundreds of evacuees from Sderot across the country, from Tiberias on the shores of Lake Kinneret in the north to Israel's southernmost town, Eilat.

Ten busloads of residents left Sderot on Friday and another 20 buses are scheduled to depart on Saturday evening.

Ministry director, Erez Halfon, said "We are implementing a range of activities for Sderot residents, and will provide financial aid and holidays for families and victims of shock."

The municipality of Red Sea resort-town Eilat petitioned hotels to donate guest rooms, for which the municipality of Sderot selected and transported eligible residents. The evacuees will remain in Eilat until Wednesday. Those being treated for symptoms of anxiety and shock were visited by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the trauma ward of Eilat's Beit Yoseftal hospital Friday.