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Israel set to approve national plan for mass evacuation of civilians
Amid the threats posed by an increasingly unstable Middle East, an Israeli ministerial committee on Monday convened to discuss a national plan meant to deal with emergency situations that may require a mass evacuation of civilians.
As of now, Israel does not have orderly procedures for adequately responding to scenarios in which hundreds of thousands of its citizens will have to leave their homes - in time of war, or if a natural disaster were to strike, the Yedioth Aharonot daily reported on Monday.
The report reveals details of a stratagem, drawn up by the National Emergency Authority (NEA), which includes an assessment that up to 300,000 Israelis may be forced to find shelter out of range of incoming missiles or areas struck by an earthquake.
The ministerial committee, headed by Homeland Security Minister Matan Vilna'i, is expected to greenlight the immediate implementation of the plan. If approved, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Home Front Command and Israel Police will be instructed to formulate plans for mass evacuations, to include criteria of their timing and scope.
The Interior Ministry will be tasked with locating public structures throughout the country fit to shelter tens of thousands of evacuees. The Housing Ministry, for its part, will draw plans for the hasty construction of temporary, makeshift camps as another option.
In addition, the plan calls for the allocation of a special budget to local councils, according to the number of residents within their jurisdiction, slated to finance the basic needs of potential evacuees - up to 350 shekels (102 U.S. dollars) per family - for clothing, medicine, diapers and laundry services.
In the 2006 Lebanon war, northern Israeli cities and towns were found unprepared to shelter their residents from thousands of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah militants over the course of 33 days.
A state-appointed probe commission later blasted the government for its failure to shelter the civilian population and provide for its needs.
The current plan is slated to go into high gear amid consistent assessments that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rockets will be fired at Israel's urban centers in a future war.
In tandem, the ministerial committee is also expected to approve a separate plan to bolster protection of the country's vital infrastructure - water, electricity and communications - from potential incoming rockets and missiles, according to the Yedioth Aharonot report.
The plan calls for establishing an inter-ministerial committee headed by the NEA and staffed by representatives from the IDF, Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet security agency, among others. It will supervise projects slated to substantially upgrade the survivability of strategic civil facilities and ensure their operation in a national crisis.
"A strike against certain sensitive facilities may hurt the public and the economy in general," Vilna'i said on Sunday, adding that Israel's national "robustness" could be dealt a critical blow during war.