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Government green-lights NIS 700 million for Gaza-area communities

After violent flareup in which hundreds of rockets pounded south, PM says two-year plan aims to ‘strengthen civilian resilience’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd from right, meets with heads of local authorities from the Gaza Strip border communities during a visit to Sderot on July 16, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd from right, meets with heads of local authorities from the Gaza Strip border communities during a visit to Sderot on July 16, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The government on Sunday earmarked NIS 700 million ($187 million) for an economic plan to “strengthen the civilian resilience” of Gaza-area communities.

“The resilience of the residents of the Gaza area is an important component of national strength,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. “We will invest an additional NIS 700 million in the plan for the welfare of the residents of the area. They are steadfast and we support them.”

In his remarks, Netanyahu credited that resilience with allowing “members of the government and security cabinet to make decisions in the right way at the right time.”

The two-year plan was proposed during a meeting last month between Netanyahu and leaders from Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, following a flareup of violence, including heavy rocket barrages, emanating from the coastal enclave. It also came amid heavy criticism by members of the high-level security cabinet over Israel’s decision to seek a ceasefire deal with the Hamas terrorist group.

The decision to provide economic assistance includes the establishment of various factories to southern communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip and the development of industrial zones, as well as assistance in education, health, and social welfare, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Officials assess the damage to a house after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israel, November 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Financial assistance is also to be allocated for agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, waste processing, housing projects, and digitized services, according to the PMO.

“We have the responsibility and obligation toward the residents of Sderot and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in light of the difficulties they encounter due to the security situation,” said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who also participated in Netanyahu’s meeting last month, along with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. “The major investment in the residents and businesses in the area over the next two years underscores this commitment.”

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of two days last month — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war and the largest-ever number of projectiles fired in one day. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside southern Israeli cities and towns, killing a Palestinian man in Ashkelon, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

That round of violence came after an undercover Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip on November 11 went awry, leading to exchanges of fire in which an Israeli special forces officer and seven Hamas gunmen were killed. The incident led to two days of intense cross-border fighting. Gaza’s Hamas rulers fired hundreds of rockets at southern Israel, while Israeli warplanes targeted scores of Hamas military sites in Gaza.

After two days, Egypt brokered an informal truce between Israel and Hamas. Though Netanyahu averted a war, he drew blistering criticism from both the right and left for his decision to accept the terms of the agreement after the unprecedentedly intense barrage on Israel’s south.

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