(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this afternoon, Sunday, convened a meeting of the Ministerial Disengagement Committee for further discussion regarding assistance to residents of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria and alternative housing solutions.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon said: “I would like to remind you that when the implementation of the disengagement was finished, I told you that while implementing the disengagement was very important for the State of Israel, our activity would not end and would continue.  We will not slacken. Therefore, I have held a series of meetings. Some issues have been resolved; others have yet to be resolved. Today, we will receive clear answers on what has already been done and what now needs to be done and how we can hasten this activity. I want to thank you all. I think that great and important work has been done and I want to receive a clear picture of the current situation.”

Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Director-General Ilan Cohen told the Committee that over 1,100 families that were evacuated from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria continue to live in their regular community frameworks. In his words, “The overwhelming majority of residents are in communities and this is very important work.”

SELA Disengagement Authority Director Yonatan Basi gave Committee members an updated picture regarding the location of various groups of residents now and in the future. Dozens of families from the evacuated communities of Atzmona and Netzarim are living in the Yevul and Yated area in the Negev. Approximately 240 students from the pre-military academy are expected to join these communities.  Basi said: “These groups of residents are living as true pioneers and all government ministries are helping them as much as possible.” Preparatory work is currently being carried out to establish two permanent communities, Shlomit and Halutzit, which are due to absorb the residents from Yevul and Yated. The ground at Halutzit has already been prepared. An additional area that is due to absorb a considerable number of families is the eastern Lachish region. Negotiations are currently being held with representatives from moshav Amatzia regarding its expansion in order to absorb families that were evacuated from moshav Katif. Additional contacts are being held with representatives of kibbutz Shomriya regarding its expansion in order to absorb families from Atzmona. Basi said: “Kibbutz Shomriya is adapted to the needs of Atzmona residents because it has residential structures that currently stand empty. There is a dairy and a poultry farm at this kibbutz that could be an excellent source of employment for Atzmona residents.”

PMO Director-General Cohen said that the possibility of establishing an additional community in the eastern Lachish area is currently being considered: “We are interested in creating contiguous communities that will be linked by road. The Director of the Interior Ministry Planning Authority has been instructed to examine the area in order to build a comprehensive plan.”

SELA Disengagement Authority Basi also discussed the Nitzanim area that has been designated for permanent housing and said that as of now groups of residents from Gedid, Bedollah, Morag, Gan-Or and Netzer Hazani have announced their intention of moving to the area.  He updated Committee members on the progress of negotiations with kibbutz Palmahim regarding residents of Elei Sinai joining the kibbutz. The Interior Ministry registrar of non-profit associations has already approved this step and the issue is now waiting for various legal permits. Kibbutz Palmahim is expected to absorb almost 50% of the residents of Elei Sinai, the others having decided to move to the moshav of Talmei Yafo and the community of Bat Hadar. Members of the moshav of Ganei Tal have recently temporarily relocated to the community of Yad Binyamin; negotiations are currently being conducted with kibbutz Hafetz Haim regarding its expansion in order to absorb residents from Ganei Tal on a permanent basis. Basi added that the group of Netzer Hazani residents currently staying on the Golan Heights has yet to decide where it wants to move. Members of the group are hesitating between the possibility of remaining on the Golan Heights permanently or moving to kibbutz Ein Tzurim. He said that two-thirds of the residents of Gedid have entered deluxe mobile homes at the Nitzan site. The remaining third – 15 families – are currently at the Neve Ilan hotel. A group of Shirat Hayam residents are currently staying at Alon Shvut on a temporary basis; the possibility is being considered that these 13 families will relocate to permanent housing in the Jordan Valley. Approximately 30 families from Dugit and Nisanit are waiting for the completion of construction of their housing at moshav Bustan Hagalil and are living in rental apartments in the area in the meantime. Thirteen families from Neveh Dekalim have announced their intention of moving to Magen Shaul in the Ta’ anach area.

Senior SELA Disengagement Authority official Shuli Levy told Committee members that out of approximately 2,400 containers that were brought out of the evacuated areas, only 340 remain in storage, the others having been distributed to their owners.

The Committee approved an additional NIS 47 million budget for financing those residents still in hotels and lodging facilities. SELA Disengagement Authority Director Basi said that 436 families are still in hotels, as opposed to the approximately 1,300 who were in hotels at the outset. He said that 30-40 families leave the hotels each week for temporary residences that have been put at their disposal by the Government. The assessment is that by the end of December the number of families in hotels will be reduced to approximately a mere 130. He said that, “Due to the sensitivity that is required, the SELA Disengagement Authority is working to end hotel stays by formulating housing solutions that are acceptable to the families and by giving a response to maintaining the various communities.”

Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry Director-General Ra’anan Dinur said that up to now the readjustment process has begun for approximately 1,700 workers and that 38 places of employment have relocated from the Gaza Strip and are continuing to operate normally. As of now, 140 business owners have applied for compensation. Thirty-two requests have been approved; three of these have already received the compensation funds and the rest will do so in the coming weeks. Ministry data indicates that 740 wage earners, 520 self-employed persons and approximately 300 people who were not in the labor force lived in the evacuated areas. Dinur said: “Many people whom we have contacted claim that they do not intend to be absorbed in new jobs until they move to their permanent housing. For the residents’ benefit, we are operating a center that coordinates between all relevant bodies regarding employment; as of today, 794 people have presented themselves at the  center.” He added that Intel representatives have recently announced that they intend to absorb approximately 50 additional employees. The Ministry has also implemented various retraining courses in engineering, driving, hotel work, computers, etc.

The Committee decided to allocate NIS 1 million for the immediate implementation for a social-community assistance program for residents of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. The plan, which was formulated by the SELA Disengagement Authority and the Social Affairs Ministry, combines assistance from professionals known and acceptable to the evacuated communities.

At the end of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon instructed the relevant bodies to act quickly in order to complete the move by residents still living in hotels to temporary housing, to expedite the establishment of the permanent sites and render as much assistance as possible to finding jobs for the residents.