(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Following are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 20 January 2008):

"Last Thursday, I visited Sderot and nearby kibbutzim in wake of the continuous activity by the IDF and the ISA and the upsurge in missile fire at Sderot and the other communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip.  Also last Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited IDF Southern Command in order to oversee our forces ongoing activity and operational deployment.

Our activity is built on two foundations.  The first is operations by the IDF and ISA in order to reach and strike at terrorists, prevent the launching of Kassams and identify their handlers in an effort to strike at them.  Last week’s actions were an outstanding expression of our unwillingness to compromise with terrorists and of our desire to strike at them with full force.  Defense Minister Barak is certainly entitled to commend the IDF for its actions and achievements, and the ISA as well, for its efforts and accomplishments, which are an inseparable part of our successes in the area.

Second, we must be sensitive to the consequences of the relentless rocket fire on the residents of Sderot and the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, their daily lives, the anxiety that they must deal with and their daily fears of attack.  These cannot be measured solely in terms of the number of those wounded but as a result of the accumulated influence on, and harsh atmosphere that it creates for, the residents’ daily lives.

This time, I must say that I found a different atmosphere both in Sderot and its neighboring communities.  I found impressive determination, fortitude, fewer complaints but not less pain and concern, and great appreciation for the activity being carried on there.  IDF Home Front Command and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai are doing very impressive work that has found expression in completing the reinforcement of schools and educational institutions throughout the area, which is being carried out in close cooperation between Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ra’anan Dinur, the Finance Ministry, the Education Ministry and other bodies.  The result is that parents certainly feel more comfortable as their children go to school.  There is a feeling that many of the problems that went unanswered for long months, have now found proper responses both in terms of personal security and the strengthening of welfare, medical and other services that the local authorities and the state must provide.

One of the problems in the south is the shortage of working hands.  I met with a Sderot factory owner last Thursday; he told me that he had no workers.  No other place in the country has such a high rate of employment and such a low rate of joblessness, which stands at 3.9%.  Moreover, the rate of achievements at Sderot educational institutions last year was among the highest in the country – 70% of students were eligible for matriculation certificates.  This is an outstanding achievement for the Sderot educational system, the Education Minister and her ministry and Education Ministry Southern District Director Amira Haim.

Action on the ground speaks for itself.  Our obligation is to continue dealing with the residents in Sderot and the other communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip so that they may carry out normal daily lives.  This must also find expression in the allocation of resources, the transfer of funds and in the continued reinforcement of vital buildings as per the comprehensive plan which we have committed to approving in the coming weeks."