Jerusalem, 23 August 1999

Cabinet Communique

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Spokesman)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday (Sunday), 22.8.99:

1. The Prime Minister opened the meeting by speaking of the Israeli rescue mission in Turkey.

The Prime Minister said that while a large number of search teams began using heavy equipment after 72 hours, which greatly reduces the chance of living people being found, the Israeli team continued to search by hand which enabled the rescue of Shiran Franco, who, the Prime Minister stressed, was saved at the last moment.

Prime Minister Barak said that the Turkish people are experiencing a terrible tragedy, and the chance of finding more survivors is now close to zero. He stressed the spirit of voluntarism demonstrated by the Israeli public, for example in the actions taken by the Artzi Kibbutz movement and the call-up of IDF reserves. "The long arm of the IDF," said Barak, "this time saved life."

The Prime Minister instructed the Director-General of the Defense Ministry, together with the authorities in Turkey, to examine types of assistance to help meet the challenges Turkey is facing.

The Prime Minister thanked the IDF, the many citizens who contributed to the aid operation, the health system and the Foreign Ministry. He said that the important lesson to be learned from the tragedy in Turkey, is that every new building must meet proper standards of planning and construction to ensure that they will withstand earthquakes of the strength likely in our region, stressing that Japanese and American standards stand up to a considerable number of earthquakes.

2. The Prime Minister presented a short overview of the political situation. He said that some progress has taken place in the negotiations with the Palestinians on certain subjects, though the issue of the prisoners remains unresolved. The Prime Minister stressed that the U.S. agrees with the Israeli position on this matter, and that he hopes that the sides will reach agreement on this issue soon.

The Prime Minister detailed a number of actions which Israel has taken, such as the release of Khalil al-Rai and the opening of Shuhadeh Street in Hebron. He added that Israel intends to make further moves in a number of areas to improve the atmosphere between the sides.

On the Syrian track, the Prime Minister said that exploratory moves are being made in a number of areas, and that in his opinion, a way to renew the talks will be found in the coming weeks or months.

3. The Cabinet discussed proposals regarding structural changes which will bring about growth in the economy.