Thousands of Gaza border residents evacuated by IDF as precaution

Defense Ministry activates ‘Gust of Wind’ plan, paying for those in greatest danger of rocket fire to be bused to other areas of country, put up in hotels

Screen capture from video of people being evacuated from Gaza Strip border areas in a Defense Ministry plan to move them to safer areas, May 9, 2023. (Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of people being evacuated from Gaza Strip border areas in a Defense Ministry plan to move them to safer areas, May 9, 2023. (Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Many residents of communities close to the Gaza Strip left the area Tuesday in anticipation of rocket barrages from the Palestinian enclave after Israel targeted several terror commanders in deadly airstrikes.

While some chose to make their own way to locations further afield, thousands were evacuated in a Defense Ministry plan specifically prepared for the scenario.

The IDF carried out a series of airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday that killed three top chiefs in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, along with several civilians including women and children, in what it dubbed Operation Shield and Arrow. The PIJ and the Hamas terror group both vowed a response, which in the past has come in the form of heavy rocket barrages at Israeli towns and cities, with communities closest to the border suffering the brunt.

With the start of the  operation, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the activation of the “Gust of Wind” plan in which the ministry buses residents away from border regions and pays for their stays in hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. Local authorities prepare for the eventuality by putting together lists of families that are interested in leaving.

The first people to be taken out of the area were families with members who have special needs, those under the care of welfare services, and the elderly, the Ynet news site reported.

“I know that if I stayed it would be a catastrophe with the children,” Sderot resident Ramona Sayag was quoted as saying. “There is a feeling of fear.”

Sayag said she was even concerned about leaving her home to be able to travel from the area.

In some communities, the only people who stayed behind were those with essential jobs such as emergency workers and dairy farmers.

Others did not wait for the organized buses, instead packing suitcases and leaving by car.

Maayan, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Am, told Channel 13 that she and her family of two young children left at 3 a.m. Tuesday, heading north right after Shield and Arrow began. “As soon as a [military] operation has a name, we know that something will happen,” she said.

For many if not most who leave, it is an inconvenience rather than a paid-for vacation.

“We don’t know how long we will be” away from home, another southern resident told the network. “It is complicated. To organize food, where to go, what will happen, what we leave behind, what will we come back to.”

The report said those who were evacuated in the IDF program will be hosted for three days, for the time being.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said, “The program is operated by the local authorities and allows every resident of the localities near the Gaza border to go on a respite with the aid of the state in guesthouses, specified in advance by the authorities.”

Screen capture from video of Maayan, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Am who left her home with her family due to tensions with the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2023. (Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Though there has been no rocket fire since the IDF strikes, schools within 40 kilometers of Gaza were ordered closed Wednesday, affecting some 300,000 students.

Those areas include cities and towns such as Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, Ofakim, Hadera, Kiryat Malachi, Matar, Omer, Kiryat Gat, Beersheba, Ashdod and Yavneh.

Likewise, outdoor gatherings in those areas has been limited to no more than ten people.

A premier league basketball game between Elizur Ashkelon and Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan was also postponed until Thursday.

Several tour operators and other organizations announced price reductions for residents of the south.

Issta set up a special call center to take orders for hotels in the central and northern regions with up to 35% reduction in the cost, the company said.

The Israel Canada and Africa Israel Hotels hotel chains said they would give a 20% reduction to southern evacuees.

Israir Airlines and Aviation Links Ltd also announced price reductions, and Holmes Place said southern residents could visit its gyms and country clubs for free.

Amid concerns that terror groups would also target Israeli cities further afield, Tel Aviv opened some 240 public bomb shelters, though city life was otherwise continuing as usual.

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