Jerusalem, January 25, 2004

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), January 25, 2004:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on the issue of the release of prisoners and kidnapped Israelis in Lebanon:

"I would like to inform you that the captives’ deal, as was approved by the government, is close to reaching a conclusion.

The State of Israel has again proved that it acts on the basis of the prime value of returning its sons to their homes. This decision has not been an easy one. The government rarely has to deal with such moral dilemmas. In my opinion we have made the right moral and responsible decision.

The agreement includes a system where all relevant sides take an active part until Ron Arad’s fate is disclosed and he is returned to Israel, something that we all hope will happen very soon.

I want to emphasize that the murderer of the Haran family and policeman Eliyahu Shachar’s will not be released, until Israel receives tangible proof of Ron Arad’s fate.

The negotiations for the return of our sons began a short time after they were kidnapped, and have been conducted continuously ever since then, except for short interruptions. Last summer significant progress was made, and after the government decision, I instructed the negotiating team to negotiate according to the principals adopted by the government.

In recent weeks, it became clear to the Defense Minister and to me that the circumstances which would allow a settlement according to those principals had been created. This agreement remained secret until last night’s announcement by the German mediator.

I want to thank the German government and to the mediators who acted in its name for the continued efforts to bring this agreement to conclusion.

In addition I would like to thank you, Ilan, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ilan Biran and to the team you led, for the persistence and understanding with which you carried out the negotiations. I know from our numerous all night meetings that it was not simple.

Today we all embrace the families. We promise to do the utmost so that the remaining missing soldiers will be brought home soon."

The head of the negotiating team Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ilan Biran briefed the government on the agreement to release the kidnapped prisoners according to the government decision of 9 November 2003, and the Prime Minister’s and Defense Minister’s approval for the details of the agreement completed over the weekend, based on the German mediator. The agreement says that Hezbollah will release the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizen, and Israel in return will release 23 Lebanese including Obeid and Dirani; Israel will also release 400 Palestinians. Israel will decide who is to be released according to the criteria set by the government; their names will be announced 48 hours before the deal is completed. In addition, Israel will release 12 Arabs to their home countries, to Syria, Sudan, Morocco and Libya. Israel will transfer maps of minefields in southern Lebanon and will release German citizen Stephen Smirak. The murderer Samir Kunter will be released after Ron Arad’s fate is clarified with tangible proof.

2. Minister Natan Sharansky and his aides briefed the cabinet on the Day for the Struggle against Anti-Semitism. In the last year there has be a high incidence of anti-Semitism from terrorist organizations, extreme anti-Israel movements and anti-Semites and individuals who acted with anti-Semitic motivation.

Three central poles have characterized anti-Semitic activity: Direct hostile activity against Jewish communities which were targeted by World Jihad organizations; continued traditional anti-Semitic activity, with the creation of a hostile atmosphere against Jews and Israel, in an attempt to undermine the right of the Jewish people to their own independent state; strengthening of the "new anti-Semitic" phenomenon, where the distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is removed.

Attempts to demonize Israel and the Jewish people as the source responsible for all improper incidents in the world continue; anti-Semitic activity on campus continue; many attacks against Jews and Jewish facilities have been perpetrated by extreme right wing elements and skinheads.

As a result of the war in Iraq, large numbers of people took to the streets to protest the war, and in many cases cited Jews as the source pushing the US to go to war; in the Arab and Muslim world classic anti-Semitic slogans against Jews in general and Israel specifically have become stronger, with the spreading of the conspiracy theory that the Jews carried out the attack against the World Trade Center and anti-Semitic theory such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Egypt and blood libels in Syria and Lebanon.

In order to cope with this, the organization "Global Forum" was set up, which incorporates Jewish organizations and various diplomatic sources to coordinate the struggle against anti-Semitism.

3. The cabinet approved the ministerial team’s 13 August 2003 decision to elect Metropolitan Eirinaios as Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem’s Greek-Orthodox Patriarch.

4. The cabinet extended the time allotted to the ministerial committee investigating the report into clashes between the security forces and Israeli citizens in October 2000 (Or Committee) until March 31, 2004.

5. The Cabinet approved according to Paragraph 19 Basic Law: The President that President Katsav will leave on February 16, 2004 for a state visit to France following an invitation from his French counterpart. The visit will last until February 20, 2004. President Katsav will meet with senior French administration officials and will visit Jewish communities.

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