(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 11 February 2007:

1. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed Justice Minister Prof. Daniel Friedmann to his first Cabinet meeting and wished him success in his position.

2. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, ISA Director Yuval Diskin and GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yedlin briefed ministers on the "Mecca agreement." The latter also briefed ministers on last week’s events on the northern border.

Ministers were briefed that the "Mecca agreement" deals with the cessation of clashes and media incitement between Hamas and Fatah in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and was signed following a period of escalation in these clashes. Israel is not mentioned in the agreement. It does not condemn violence and terrorism. Ministers were also briefed on the significance of the agreement, the possible composition of a Palestinian government and how Fatah and Hamas view the agreement.

Prime Minister Olmert said: "Israel neither rejects nor accepts the agreement. At this stage, we – like the international community – are studying what exactly has been achieved in the agreement, what it says and upon what basis it rests." He added that he and Foreign Minister Livni had held a series of urgent contacts over the weekend with world leaders regarding the agreement. The Prime Minister said that prior to the Cabinet meeting, he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is beginning a Middle Eastern tour today. Prime Minister Olmert said that he was pleased to hear from President Putin that Russia continued to support the Quartet principles, as found expression last week.

Prime Minister Olmert said: "The international community, led by the Quartet, has clearly determined that any Palestinian government must fully adopt the following three conditions:

A) Recognition of the State of Israel ’s right to exist;
B) A halt to – and the disavowal of – terrorist actions; and
C) Acceptance and implementation of the agreements that have been previously signed with Israel, including acceptance of the Roadmap.  

The Quartet clearly reiterated this position at its 2 February 2007 meeting. After the meeting in Mecca, no Palestinian statement was issued accepting these conditions.

Israel emphasizes that terrorist actions against it, including the firing of Kassam missiles and the smuggling of war materiel into the Gaza Strip, are continuing and that the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit has yet to be released. Israel will continue to examine developments in light of the clear Quartet principles, while insisting that the Palestinians fully comply with them all."

3. The Minister responsible for Jerusalem affairs, Yaacov Edery, Antiquities Authority Director-General Shuka Dorfman, Israel Police Inspector-General Moshe Karadi and Israel Police Jerusalem District Commander Ilan Franco briefed ministers on events on and around the Temple Mount and on Israel’s excavation work on the Mugrabi Gate ramp.

Prime Minister Olmert said that work on the Mugrabi Gate bridge – outside the Temple Mount – is necessary because the previous ramp had collapsed and the interim wooden bridge is a safety hazard, as was determined by the Jerusalem city engineer. A new bridge is necessary for the welfare of visitors and tourists. The bridge will also be at the disposal of the security forces in order – for example – to prevent stones from being hurled at the Western Wall plaza. The Prime Minister also said that proper staff work – involving the Jerusalem municipality, the Antiquities Authority, the Israel Police, the Public Security Ministry, the Mossad, the ISA and Minister Edery’s office – had been carried out over several months. The Defense and Foreign ministries were updated.  Ministers and other relevant officials discussed the issue on 25 January 2007 and gave final approval to the plan to build a bridge up to the Mugrabi Gate.

The Prime Minister said: "I have heard claims regarding the professional activity of the Antiquities Authority. I vigorously reject them. Professional archaeological work was done here. During the staff work, the relevant Jerusalem municipality official issued a permit for the construction of the bridge. Today, Attorney General Meni Mazuz is checking whether or not a more detailed planning process, namely a municipal building plan, is necessary and we will, of course, act in accordance with any directive."

Prime Minister Olmert made it clear that in any case, and in accordance with any planning procedure, Antiquities Authority excavations are necessary according to the Antiquities Authority Law. These excavations will continue. "I have instructed all elements involved to work with complete transparency and to show anyone who is interested there is an essential need to build a new bridge. Anyone who goes there sees this for himself. There is no activity that is designed to dig under the Temple Mount. This is activity that is taking place outside the [Temple Mount] wall only."

International officials, including very senior officials in the US and other countries, were updated during the planning stage. Islamic extremist elements are seeking to incite and inflame even though they know for a certainty that there is no activity designed to harm the Temple Mount. Israel guards, and has always guarded, the holy places of all faiths, including Islam, and will assure freedom of worship. It is intolerable that domestic Islamic extremist elements are trying to fan the flames in a wholly unjustified manner.

The Cabinet decided:

A. To continue with the planned construction of the Mugrabi Gate ramp in a way that allows completion in the least possible time. To the extent that a municipal building plan will be required – one will be brought for approval as quickly as possible.

B. The Foreign Ministry will continue to deal with the international aspects, including in regard with UNESCO.

C. Continuation of coordination with international bodies, while maintaining full transparency of events at the site.

D. The ISA and the Israel Police will continue operational and intelligence preparedness.

E.  Minister Yaacov Edery will be responsible for this issue.

F. Information activities will be coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor.

4. The Cabinet discussed the budgeting and organization necessary to implement the State Commission of Inquiry on Structural Safety and Public Places (the Ziler Report).

5. The Cabinet decided to transfer NIS 16.3 million to the SELA Disengagement Authority to cover the costs involved in the disbandment of the Gaza Coast Regional Council. The Cabinet decided to assist in the community administration costs of employing rabbis at the temporary housing sites for Gaza Strip and northern Samaria residents.

6. The Cabinet discussed the development of communities in the eastern Lachish area in order to – inter alia – provide permanent solutions for former residents of the Gaza Strip and established a directors-general committee to prepare a coordinated plan.

7. Defense Minister Amir Peretz briefed ministers on the state of TAAS-Israel Military Industries.

8. Pursuant to the 1998 National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites Law and in accordance with the recommendation of Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, the Cabinet appointed five new members to the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority.