In north, 50,000 residents without rocket shelters brace for escalation with Lebanon

Only a fraction of the $1.38 billion pledged in 2018 has been transferred to municipalities exposed to recent cross-border fire

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire caused after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit near the Israeli town of Shlomi, April 6, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire caused after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit near the Israeli town of Shlomi, April 6, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

In the event of rocket attacks on Israel’s north, the escalation would find about 50,000 people living in homes without an adequate sheltered area, despite a NIS 5 billion ($1.38 billion) plan to address the issue.

Under the plan, approved in 2018 but initiated only in 2021, only NIS 350 million ($97 million) of the budget has been allocated to northern municipalities, Channel 12 news reported Thursday, after Air Force strikes in southern Lebanon.

The strikes, which the Israel Defense Forces said were directed against Hamas targets, were retaliation for rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, the worst cross-border violence since a 2006 war.

Out of about 30 rockets launched into Galilee, at least five exploded inside the country. Three people sustained minor to moderate injuries from the explosions, which also damaged several buildings and caused brush fires. Rockets were also fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The military carried out several strikes in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon against the Hamas terror group, which Jerusalem said was responsible for the rocket fire on both fronts.

Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which maintains a robust military presence in southern Lebanon and had fired thousands of rockets into Israel in 2006, is not believed to have participated in the latest round of hostilities.

The 2018 plan, titled “Northern Shield,” was meant to fund the construction of bomb shelters and reinforced areas in thousands of residential homes and in the 5,000-odd non-residential buildings without such provisions within about a kilometer of the border, Channel 12 reported. In the plan’s original timetable, the government undertook to transfer NIS 500 million ($138 million) annually for a decade for strengthening buildings.

The government’s budget for 2023-2024 allocated only NIS 100 million ($28 million) for the plan.

Moshe Davidovich, head of the Mateh Asher Regional Council in Western Galilee, wrote a letter to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich protesting the government’s failure to honor the 2018 plan.

“It is unthinkable that the state would drastically cut a plan for protecting residents along the volatile and dangerous” northern border, Davidovich wrote.

Following Thursday’s events, Davidovich called on the government to “remove bureaucratic hurdles” and fund the plan as intended.

The army’s Home Front Command is currently prioritizing strengthening homes in 21 towns that are situated within one kilometer of the northern border. Owners of reinforced homes receive a sheltered area at the government’s expense as part of that effort.

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