- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

TEL AVIV — Under a barrage of nearly 100 Hezbollah rockets a day and its residents stir-crazy from hiding in bomb shelters, the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shemona yesterday began evacuating residents to cities and towns southward to central Israel.

The evacuation would mark the first time Israel’s government has ever evacuated a city during a war. With as many as 9,000 mostly poor people remaining in the city after four weeks of war, residents have become fed up from being confined to the underground refuges.

The shelters are reportedly lacking air conditioning and haven’t been cleaned sufficiently. But fear of the rockets has kept residents confined to the shelters except for occasional errands. A month sharing a common space with neighbors has hurt morale, and residents have appealed to the government to subsidize an evacuation.

“The shelters are not villas,” said municipal council director Danny Kadosh. “They’re good for one to two weeks, and it’s caused psychological damage, and we need a week’s break to refresh ourselves.”

The municipality says the evacuation started yesterday evening, and it could last through the next week. Already within the next few days, the town might be emptied of residents, said Mr. Kadosh.

Because residents will only be offered subsidies covering one week’s stay outside of the city, the plan is being called a “rejuvenation” rather than an evacuation.

“Hopefully, they will enjoy themselves, and relax, and the children will get refreshed,’ said Susan Peretz, municipal spokeswoman.

In Israel’s most-bombarded city, about 1,000 buildings have been damaged, as have 300 cars. Miraculously, there have been no fatalities.

In this town, where about 700 rockets have fallen since fighting erupted July 12, those who haven’t fled to safety elsewhere in Israel are mostly the poor, the sick and the elderly.

A week ago, residents could risk brief excursions for showers and meals. But recently the number of rockets fired daily has doubled, police say. In the past four days alone, 215 rockets have rained down on the city. Sirens wailed at least a dozen times in a two-hour stretch Monday morning.

“Families with small kids should be taken out of here,” said Motti Avraham, the owner of a minisupermarket who sent his family to Eilat weeks ago. “They don’t need to be in a five-star hotel, but somewhere that is quiet. The trauma that kids are experiencing here will stay with them, and they will need to take care.”

Tel Aviv has offered hotel rooms to the refugees. And yet, Mr. Avraham warns that forcing children to return to the city will do more damage than good.

“When the homeland becomes a front, you need to evacuate them so they won’t be on the front lines. Especially little kids,” said Mr. Avraham. “The idea that a child will have to come back to the inferno … I don’t understand depths of thinking, the decision makers here.”

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