(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 2 January 2005:

1. Following are Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s remarks from the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 2 January 2005:

“A week has passed since the awful disaster that struck the Asian continent and the entire world, a disaster the dimensions of which humanity is finding it difficult to comprehend.  In Israel, we bow our heads in memory of the victims and extend a hand to those countries where tens of thousands of citizens have lost their lives and their homes.  There is almost no nation that hasn’t been affected.  Even with us, those who sought to see cultures, scenery and people and to enjoy the beauty of creation will be laid to rest.

Since the disaster became known, the Israeli public has conducted itself in a way which reminds us of divine obligations of mutual responsibility.  This morning, I heard that thousands of families at the ends of the earth who flocked to collection points for contributions for disaster victims.  An entire nation is monitoring the search for its missing citizens.  An Israeli rescue force left for the destruction-strewn areas in an attempt to assist the victims and in the unrelenting search for missing Israelis, in order to clarify their fates and – if necessary – to bring them home for burial.

I would like to thank Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and the Foreign Ministry personnel for their accelerated activity, which led to the quick locating of many Israelis.

I would also like to thank the IDF, the Israel Police, ZAKA and all those who came to offer help, support and assistance in these difficult days.”

2. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on the extent of the Southeast Asian tragedy, described his ministry’s actions to deal with the disaster, and noted that four Israelis who were killed have been located so far, three Israelis are still missing, 30 Israelis have not made contact but were not in the areas hit and 33 Israelis were injured. The Foreign Minister praised the quick organization of Israeli sources to deal with Israeli tourists in the area and with their families in Israel, the Israeli delegations sent to the region and to the areas in which Israelis are concentrated: Thailand, India, Sri Lanka. The delegations have been cooperating with local government in order to locate and treat Israelis in the area.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that a plane had been sent, with El-Al’s cooperation, to return Israeli survivors.  In addition an Israel Police identification team had been sent along with a ZAKA team in order to identify bodies. A team of psychologists has been sent to deal with families who arrived in the region to locate their loved ones. The Foreign Minister commented that Israel was among the first countries that offered aid and sent relief to the countries affected, including a medical team and IDF humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka. The command center became a focus for civilian inquiries from other countries including Belgium, Mexico, South Africa and the US.  Israeli representatives also aided foreign nationals in finding their relatives. Israeli activities were carried out with complete cooperation between the IDF, Israel Police, ZAKA, the Finance and Health Ministries and El-Al.

Prime Minister Sharon said that the Foreign Ministry had done excellent work in locating and rescuing Israeli citizens and added that Israel had aided many other bodies and is prepared to continue this work. The Foreign Ministry has been widely praised for its unprecedented actions, and the Prime Minister added that the government is highly appreciative of the activities of Foreign Minister Shalom, Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen, and personnel at the Foreign Ministry, the IDF, Israel Police, ZAKA, the Finance and Health Ministries and El-Al for their life-saving activities and rescue and identification work.

Their actions in the areas where the tragedy took place and in Israel is an example which proved that Israel is a country that does not abandon its missing and does everything to locate them and bring them home; the authorities deserve every praise.

The government sends its condolences to the families of those Israelis who perished, and to the governments and families of those who lost loves ones in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Sweden, Germany, Italy and to all other countries whose citizens were injured.

3. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised the issue of the way in which decisions regarding the disengagement Plan would be implemented.

Justice Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz, Disengagement Authority Director Yonatan Basi and Deputy Attorney General Mike Blass briefed ministers on their respective professional opinions – both legal and organizational – regarding the Disengagement Plan.

Prime Minister Sharon said that the Cabinet decision on the evacuation of residents from the Gaza Strip and four communities in northern Samaria must be made a reasonable time in advance – from five to six months – of the actual evacuation. The Prime Minister added that the goal is to give residents official notice regarding the expected evacuation in order for them to organize accordingly. The residents must prepare for evacuation and especially for their lives after the evacuation – they must prepare new homes, new places of employment, new schools for their children, etc.

Prime Minister Sharon said that he has provided ministers with the professional opinions, both legal and organizational, so that they might afterwards hold joint consultations on the issue. The Prime Minister emphasized that he would like to keep to deciding on the evacuation of groups of communities as the Cabinet decided on 6.6.04, when it approved the Disengagement Plan, i.e. the specific decision regarding each group of communities as per such circumstances as may prevail at the time. The prime minister said that in approximately two weeks, the cabinet will hear the position of the security establishment on this issue and by then the decision-making process will have been formulated.

4. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), to accept Prime Minister Sharon’s recommendation and appoint Meir Spiegler as Religious Services Administrator in the Prime Minister’s Office.

5. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), to approve the appointment of Ron Dermer as Economic Attache at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., as of 1 March 2005.

6. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Capital Investments Encouragement Law and the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), to appoint Hezi Tzaig as Director of the Industry, Trade, and employment ministry Investment Center.

7. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with Basic Law: The Government to transfer the following bodies from the National Infrastructures Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office: the Galilee Development Authority and the Negev Development Authority. This decision will be submitted to the Knesset as required by law.

8. The Cabinet, in accordance with the 1949 Firearms Law, decided to allow IWI to manufacture firearms. The Cabinet similarly decided to allow IWI to import and export military firearms.