(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 8 January 2006:

1. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following remarks:

"In recent days, we have all been paying attention – first and foremost – to what is happening at Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital and have been praying and hoping to hear good news. We are very encouraged to hear the doctors’ opinions that the situation is stabilizing and improving, and that there is a spark of hope. Even now, from here, we are hoping and wishing that the Prime Minister will recover, strengthen and return to presiding over the Israeli government and leading the state of Israel.

If I could speak with him this morning and ask, ‘Arik, what would you tell us? What would you want us to do?’, he would say: ‘I appreciate the fact that you are all concerned about my health. Thank you, but get to work. You must continue running affairs of state and doing everything to take care of security and socio-economic issues.’ And this is what we will continue to do. We will pay attention, we will pray and we will believe that we will hear good news from Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital.  In the meantime, we will continue to do what Arik would want – running affairs as they should be.

Israeli democracy is strong and all institutions are functioning in a stable, serious and responsible manner; this is as it should be and this is how it will continue."

The Cabinet supports the Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital management, medical personnel, and all those involved for their dedicated work on behalf of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s health.

Acting Prime Minister Olmert referred to the messages of solidarity and concern that he has received from various world leaders, all of whom expressed – first and foremost – personal concern for Prime Minister Sharon as well as their wishes for a rapid recovery; they also expressed solidarity with the State of Israel and the Jewish People, as well as the Sharon family and the Government.  In this regard, the Acting Prime Minister mentioned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, US Secy. Of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II and South African President Thabo Mbeki. Messages and letters were also received – inter alia – from UN Secy.-Gen. Kofi Annan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, senior EU envoy Javier Solana, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Acting Prime Minister Olmert said that the interest in Prime Minister Sharon’s health was global, unprecedented and very impressive from an emotional standpoint. The Acting Prime Minister thanked everyone for their important remarks on both the personal and national levels, and added that the Israeli public knew how to appreciate them.

2. OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yedlin and ISA Director Yuval Diskin briefed ministers on the current state of affairs in the PA, on issues related to the northern border, Syria and Iran, with emphasis on the growing anarchy in the PA (especially in the Gaza Strip), preparations for the upcoming PA elections and terrorism.

IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Halutz gave ministers a detailed briefing on the IDF’s operational activities against Palestinian terrorism, especially recent counter-terrorist operations. He also discussed the cutting down of olive trees in Samaria. Attorney-General Meni Mazuz also referred to the issue of the cutting down of olive trees and said that in light of the seriousness of the matter, the state must undertake an urgent response. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also discussed the issue and said that this was a very severe and disturbing phenomenon that reflected a wide-range of malicious acts against the Palestinian population; he said that law enforcement on this issue would be stepped up. Acting Prime Minister Olmert said that the cutting down of olive trees was a criminal act and needed to be dealt with accordingly, with full force and without hesitation or compromise: "This is a terrible thing being perpetrated by a group whose roots and agenda we can identify; we cannot countenance such a thing. This must be prevented; the perpetrators must be apprehended.  I commend the Attorney-General’s statement that civil, as well as criminal, steps would be taken against them."

Defense Minister Mofaz emphasized in both the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria, a new reality was being created in which the security response to terrorists’ attempts to attack Israeli citizens would have to be strengthened.  In the north, the defense Minister said that general preparedness would continue in the face of attempts by Hizbullah and of other elements to bring about an ‘additional front’ by trying to divert attention from Syria’s plight vis-à-vis the international pressure that it is under.

Defense Minister Mofaz also noted the weakness and ineffectualness of both the PA security services and the PA leadership and said that the security establishment would be prepared for any possible escalation.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom discussed the international attention that Prime Minister Sharon’s medical condition is receiving. He said that since last Wednesday, both the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s embassies abroad have received thousands of letters and get-well wishes for the prime minister. World media continues to devote extensive coverage to the situation; many senior correspondents have arrived in Israel to cover it.

Foreign Minister Shalom discussed the upcoming PA elections, the Lebanese government’s decision to allow the opening of a Palestinian interests office in Beirut, criticism in Egypt of Palestinian behavior at Rafiah, the Iranian nuclear issue and the pressure on the Syrian regime.

Foreign Minister Shalom noted that last week Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul signed a joint declaration on the rehabilitation of the Erez Industrial Zone and the Norwegian Finance Minister’s call for an economic boycott of Israel. The foreign minister said that he had instructed the Israeli Ambassador in Oslo to work with the Norwegian government in order to acquaint it with the severity with which Israel views this call. Following the ambassador’s activity, the Norwegian finance minister was summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office where she issued an apology. She also told the Norwegian media that her call was both a mistake and contravened Norwegian government policy. Her remarks gave rise to statements of support for Israel from across the Norwegian political spectrum.

3. The Cabinet, pursuant to its authority under the 1960 Israel Land Administration Law, appointed Yoav Saguy as a member of the ILA Council on behalf of public environmental organizations.