Sderot Parents Threaten to Delay Start of School Year

Vilnai: I will vouch for security of city's schools when transportation minister vows there willl be no accidents.

A committee of Sderot parents threatened on Sunday to prevent the upcoming school year from opening in the western Negev town, if the government does not guarantee the security of its schools.

The committee members were angered by deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai's response to their request that he vouch for the security of the schools in Sderot. Vilnai said he would vouch for the security of the city's schools "when the transportation minister guarantees that there will be no more road accidents and the education minister guarantees that there will be no more violence in schools."

Batya Katar, a member of the parents committee, said, "Vilnai's statements prove that our request is just and that the current fortification of the schools does not guarantee our children's safety," adding that "if [ the Defense Ministry] does not sign it means that they do not trust the existing security arrangements."

Vilnai made his statements during a review session by Education Minister Yuli Tamir ahead of the upcoming school year, after Tamir asked him to vouch for the safety of the students in Sderot.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during the session that the new schools that will be build in Sderot would offer the highest level of protection possible. "I have not changed my opinion that the level of protection in the fortified spaces as specified by the Home Front is sufficient," Olmert said, "but the government respects the court's ruling on the issue."

Olmert also said the he was "very impressed by the trustworthiness of the educators in Sderot. The Sderot's children are no different from the rest of the children in Israel, and the government will accompany them on a daily basis to normalize their lives."

Tamir on Friday guaranteed government funding to protect Sderot schoolchildren from continuous Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, after a meeting she held in the city with concerned parents and teachers. "The parents' demands will be met, and the school year will begin as expected. The process of fortifying schools is not a simple one, and it will take a long time to work out" she stated.

The parents said that they would withdraw their children from school if progress on fortifications against rockets was not made by the start of the school year. This could delay the start of the school year, though Tamir said this would not happen.

Funding will be issued to renovate and fortify bomb shelters in public schools in the western Negev town. The government has also pledged to build new, fortified schools in Sderot; make 54 bus stops and hitchhiking posts in the city resistant to Qassam rocket fire; allocate funds for the construction of new schools and increase the number of buses chaperoning children to school.

Three Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at the western Negev Sunday. The rockets fell in open areas; one of them sparking a fire.