(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday (Sunday), 17 October 2004:

1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on current security and diplomatic issues.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed Operation Days of Penitence and said that after a security establishment assessment held before the weekend, it was agreed that the IDF would redeploy in the Gaza Strip – after having secured the operation’s main goals and objectives. The Defense Minister noted that there has been a significant reduction in the firing of Kassam rockets, a concomitant blow at Hamas’s ability to launch Kassam rockets, and an improvement in our forces’ ability to exert control and respond quickly to attempts to launch Kassam rockets and perpetrate other attacks. The Defense Minister added that during the operation, approximately 120 Palestinians have been killed, including approximately 70 terrorists; eight Kassam launching cells have been thwarted, as were 19 cells of armed terrorists and 17 cells of terrorists who sought to plant bombs and/or fire anti-tank rockets. 

The Defense Minister said that he had instructed the IDF regarding continued immediate readiness and continuity against attempts to launch Kassam rockets at Sderot and its environs, including readiness to enter the area immediately should the need arise. Defense Minister Mofaz said that IDF activity in Khan Yunis in order to reduce mortar fire at Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, is continuing.

Defense Minister Mofaz also discussed the humanitarian aspect of operation “Days of Penitence” noted that efforts were made during the operation to differentiate between terrorist elements and the civilian population, the intention being to reduce harm to civilians.  In this context, concentrated efforts were made to enable the passage of containers of humanitarian equipment, from the humanitarian organizations to the Gaza Strip. In the context of the IDF redeployment, Defense Minister Mofaz instructed that special attention be paid to humanitarian issues. In accordance with operational considerations, the humanitarian organizations will be allowed to continue their vital and important activity of transfering humanitarian assistance to the population.

Defense Minister Mofaz briefed ministers on the warning system in Sderot that gives a 20-second warning from the launch of a Kassam rocket, on the capture of Imad Qawasma in Hebron, on IDF preparations for Ramadan, on the investigation into the Sinai terrorist attacks, and on the situation in the Palestinian Authority against the background of Operation Days of Penitence, the upcoming US elections and developments in Israel.

Defense minister Mofaz also briefed ministers on the situation in the north vis-a-vis Syria and Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on recent contacts in the UN Security Council on the Syrian issue and noted that the US is – at the same time – considering intensifying its sanctions against Syria, including a freeze on senior Syrian officials’ assets. In this context, the Foreign Minister pointed out that Syria is continuing to act vigorously in order to form a new government in Lebanon, thus underscoring Damascus’s determination to maintain its control of the Lebanese state.

Foreign Minister Shalom briefed ministers on the issue of Iran and its nuclear policy, on the chaos in the Palestinian Authority, on various issues regarding Israel’s relations with Europe and on the war on anti-Semitism. The issue of anti-Semitism was one of the main issues in his talks with his Polish counterpart during his recent visit to Warsaw.  Poland has invited President Moshe Katsav to visit early next year and has invited Prime Minister Sharon to participate in the March of the Living. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski will visit Yad Vashem.

Both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives have passed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, which will struggle against anti-Semitism around the world and which will include annual US State Department reports on anti0Semitism. The Act was recently signed into law by US President George Bush.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that he and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had agreed that in January 2005, a special exhibit marking 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz will be held in the UN building in New York.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that there had been a meeting last week between the Israeli team and UN Secretary-General Annan’s team that has been appointed to investigate the involvement of UNRWA personnel in terrorist activity.  The whole range of issues was discussed at the meeting: the use of vehicles with UN markings for terrorist activities, the use of UNRWA installations, etc.  Israel has expressed its willingness to consider the possibility of restoring its relationship with the organization to one of fruitful cooperation.  The team presented its conclusions to UN Secretary-General Annan; the UN issued a statement over the weekend to the effect that Secretary-General Annan is committed to preventing the unlawful use of UN vehicles and installations by armed, “militants.”  The Foreign Minister said that he sees the statement as recognition of the seriousness of Israel’s claims.

2. The Cabinet, in accordance with its authority under Basic Law: The Government, decided that Science and Technology Minister Ilan Shalgi would serve as Acting Environment Minister; the Knesset will be informed of this decision. Following are Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s remarks regarding Environment Minister Yehudit Naot:

“Yehudit Naot has – to my great regret – announced that she must resign from the Cabinet due to her illness.  Minister Naot has been outstanding and has raised the subject of the environment to the highest level, in regard to both immediate and future issues.

We have spoken many times and she has coped with her illness with uncommon heroism and courage. It is very unfortunate that she is leaving; she has been outstanding both professionally and personally.

I want to thank Yehudit both on my behalf and that of the government for her great contribution to the government, and to wish her a full recovery.”

Justice Minister Joseph Lapid also warmly praised Minister Naot.

3. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with Basic Law: President of the State to approve President Moshe Katsav’s official visit to Austria, from 19-22 October 2004.  President Katsav will meet with senior Austrian government leaders and will – along with Austrian President Heinz Fischer – attend a special ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the passing of Theodor Herzl.  President Katsav and his Austrian counterpart will also visit the Mathausen concentration camp. Prime Minister Sharon – on both his behalf and that of the Cabinet – wished President Katsav a successful visit.