(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

The weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 23 January 2005, was held in the city of Sderot in solidarity with its residents, and those of the Gaza Strip, who have recently faced a murderous terrorist assault. The Cabinet met in the presence of Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and the members of the Sderot City Council, and the chairmen of the regional councils from the area around the Gaza Strip.

Following are Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s comments at the start of today’s weekly Cabinet meeting:

“Mr. Mayor, you have stood here on difficult days, you have demonstrated outstanding leadership. After a long period of Palestinian terrorism and intensive operations by our security forces against terror, quiet has prevailed.

We still do not know if there has been a genuine change in the situation. We hope so. We are closely monitoring events. One thing is clear – if terrorism is renewed, according to the Cabinet’s decision, Israel will do everything to prevent attacks on Sderot, the Negev and the communities in the Gaza Strip.

The Cabinet is meeting here in Sderot in order to express its appreciation of your steadfastness and that of the Negev and Gaza communities. Today, we will be briefed on the aid being granted to these communities, and we will hear from the local council heads about what else can be done to help. The Cabinet will also have a security briefing.

I have heard criticism more than once, and I want to tell you that even if things are not always done publicly, we have never stopped acting on behalf of the residents here. I am a neighbor of the city of Sderot. I have heard the explosions many times and I know how hard and frustrating it is to live like this, in Sderot, in Nir-Am, in Sa’ad, in Gush Katif and everywhere else that is under attack.

I hope that the quiet will continue, and if not, the IDF and the security forces will continue to do everything in order to remove the threat from residents here.”

Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen briefed ministers on the implementation of previous Cabinet decisions designed to assist the residents of Sderot and its environs vis-a-vis increasing their security and social welfare. He made it clear that most of the decisions have been implemented or are being implemented. He noted the cooperation of all relevant ministries, as well as that of Mayor Moyal and the aforementioned regional council chairmen in implementing the Cabinet decisions.

Sderot Mayor Moyal commended the Government for taking the initiative and holding the weekly Cabinet meeting in Sderot in solidarity with its residents and added that just as the Government supports the residents of Sderot, he – on behalf of the residents – supports the Government in all of its actions.

Sderot Mayor Moyal and the municipality director-general discussed several issues that must be continued in order to continue supporting the city.

The chairmen of the Ashkelon Coast, Gaza Strip, Shaar Hanegev, Sdot Hanegev and Eshkol Regional Councils expressed their gratitude to the Government for its recent actions and also raised several issues that must be continued in order to increase the security and social welfare of area residents.

Prime Minister Sharon said that he is instructing Director-General Cohen to continue dealing with the issues that remain open regarding Sderot and the residents of the surrounding areas.

IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon briefed ministers on security matters including the calm that has begun to prevail in the area in recent days. He discussed the actions that have been taken by the Palestinian Authority, including the deployment of police personnel in the northern Gaza Strip, in order to prevent the firing of Kassam rockets and mortar shells at Sderot and nearby communities.

The Cabinet decided to extend the validity of the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision) until 31 May 2005; this will be submitted for Knesset approval.

The Cabinet decided to approve President Moshe Katsav’s official visit to Poland, at the invitation of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, to attend the commemorations for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Cabinet decided to establish the Ministerial Committee on the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, to be chaired by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, which  will deal with all issues regarding the development of the Negev and the Galilee.

Minister Natan Sharansky briefed ministers on the struggle against anti-Semitism and the events due to take place on 27 January 2005 in order to mark the struggle against anti-Semitism.