(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

At the weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 5 March 2006):

1. The cabinet discussed last Friday’s incident at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.  Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Israel Police Inspector-General Moshe Karadi briefed ministers on events at the church and in the city of Nazareth itself, including the actions of the Israel Police.  Deputy Social Welfare Minister Avraham Ravitz briefed ministers on the treatment and care received by the Havivi family from the welfare authorities.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "The State of Israel, since its founding, has scrupulously upheld freedom of worship and freedom of religion and full toleration towards the institutions of the religions active in the country.  This is our faith, this is our way, thus we have acted and thus we will continue to act.  We are in a delicate period in which there is always the temptation to exploit events of this sort for purposes that are not relevant.  I call on all elements to show restraint and responsibility and not to drag this regrettable incident, which we are pleased has ended calmly, into scenes of religious-based conflicts that have no relation to what happened."

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on current security and diplomatic matters.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that there has been a rise in the scope of terrorism, especially shooting and stabbing attacks in Judea and Samaria and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.  He referred to the increase in threats against the Gaza Strip crossings and noted that it was against this background that the Karni crossing has been closed.  The defense minister said that, while it is Israel’s policy to allow the Palestinian population to receive its humanitarian needs, when there is a conflict of interests between the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians and humanitarian needs, especially when there is an alternative and temporary solutions at other crossings, the security of Israeli soldiers and civilians is paramount.   It is important to inform the international community that there are temporary alternatives regarding the passage of humanitarian aid via the Kerem Shalom crossing and that the Palestinians are rejecting this for reasons that are not substantive.  The Palestinians are responsible for the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip even as the terrorist organizations view attacking the crossings as a goal despite the price being paid by the Palestinian population.

In Palestinian affairs, Hamas’s dominance and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness have been prominent.  Hamas is working to formulate a diplomatic platform that stresses its founding principles and regards Abbas’s guidelines as non-binding "advice."

Mofaz discussed Iran’s actions ahead of the upcoming IAEA Board of Governors meeting and the international effort to prevent its enrichment activities, with the focus being the negotiations on a Russian-Iranian agreement-in-principle and Tehran’s continuing efforts to prevent the issue from being transferred to the UN Security Council.

In the North, tensions continue against the background of the efforts to oust Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and to weaken Syrian influence in Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on her visit last week to Austria, France, and Great Britain.  The visit was held immediately after European Union foreign ministers decided to transfer 122 million euros to the Palestinians and noted that the next financial transfer would be conditioned on the PA government fulfilling the three basic conditions determined by the international community.  She emphasized that the European countries are currently in a policy formation stage, hence the importance of her visit.  If Israel wants to influence Europe, it must act forthwith.  The foreign minister briefed her European hosts on the Israeli government’s clear position against the international community’s financial transfers to the Hamas government or any other terrorist body.  She said that, since we are committed to preventing a humanitarian crisis in the PA, the funds must be channeled through international humanitarian organizations only.  The EU countries accepted the demand not to transfer funds to the PA as long as it has not met the EU’s basic conditions. 

Livni noted that other objectives of her trip included assuring the continuation of the European position on dealing with the Iranian issue, anti-Semitism in France following the murder of Ilan Halimi, claims against Israeli officers, and putting Hizbullah on the European list of terrorist organizations.

Livni informed ministers that she had spoken with Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano regarding the incident at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and had reassured him regarding the government’s policy of continuing to maintain and protect the holy places.

3. The cabinet discussed the creation of an independent Patents Authority in the Justice Ministry.