(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday, March 19, 2006):

1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and ISA Director Yuval Diskin briefed ministers on current security and diplomatic affairs.

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz said that there is no legal impediment to trying those connected to the assassination of minister Rehavam Ze’evi in Israel, for several reasons: They were never tried in the accepted sense of the concept and according to the rules in use in the State of Israel, those who were tried abroad do not acquire immunity from trial in the State of Israel – if there are substantive reasons for this. The attorney-general made it clear that the State of Israel has claimed, from the outset, that the sole legal authority over the murder belongs to the State of Israel, in which there is no legal impediment to trying the minister’s assassins.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Mofaz expressed their great apreciation to the IDF, GOC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, the Israel Police Special Anti-Terrorism Unit and to the ISA for the successful action in Jericho that led to the capture of minister Ze’evi’s murderers and made it unequivocally clear that the State of Israel is determined and uncompromising regarding issues that top its agenda.

2. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Ze’ev Boim and Health Minister Ya’akov Edri, the directors-general of their ministries, and other relevant officials briefed ministers on issues related to the appearance of bird flu. Acting Prime Minister Olmert instructed the aforesaid ministries to continue cooperating in the struggle against bird flu, including in issuing statements to the public. The acting prime minister ordered the establishment of a special team, headed by the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry director-general, to deal with the issue of compensation to poultry farmers who have suffered losses.

Olmert said: "Bird flu has recently been discovered in Israel. The government has been prepared to deal with this issue for some time. Today, we are taking all the measures that we prepared for.  All of the dead birds will be buried in order to prevent the disease from spreading. It is important to emphasize that, at this stage, we are talking only about bird flu; there is no indication that the there is the possibility of the disease spreading to humans. All necessary measures to ensure that this does not happen, are being implemented. Of course, while I suggest attributing due seriousness to the appearance of bird flu, we should also be more relaxed about the dangers that people may be concerned about, given the measures that we have taken and are taking to prevent further spreading. In any case, it will not lead to an outbreak among humans."

3. The cabinet discussed assistance to those local authorities that have absorbed evacuees from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria regarding social assistance, and decided to extend NIS 9.54 million in psychological-social (personal-family-community) assistance during 2006 to those local authorities that have absorbed considerable numbers of Gaza Strip and northern Samaria residents pursuant to the 2005 Disengagement Plan Implementation Law.

The necessary budget will be transferred from the Sela Disengagement Authority’s assistance budget via the Interior Ministry, which will then disburse the funds (during the first month of each quarter) to the local authorities according to an allocation formula that takes into account – inter alia – the number of residents (children, adults, families and communities) absorbed in each area and the Disengagement Authority’s support allocation criteria.

The social assistance funds allocated to the various absorbing authorities will replace the previous support mechanism operated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) via the Disengagement Authority, as per the appropriate regulations to be decided upon by the PMO legal adviser.

The absorbing authorities will submit detailed reports to the Disengagement Authority, the Social Welfare Ministry, and the Interior Ministry on their activities vis-à-vis social assistance to the evacuees.

The Interior Ministry will disburse a 20% advance within 30 days to the absorbing authorities; the advance will be deducted from the payment for activities in the first quarter of 2006.

The absorbing authorities will – at the end of each quarter – submit detailed quarterly expenditure reports (that will be reviewed by a chartered public accountant) to the Disengagement Authority, the Social Welfare Ministry, and the Interior Ministry, on their activities vis-à-vis social assistance to the evacuees. The submission of such reports will be a condition for the disbursement of funds for the following quarter.

The Interior Ministry will be entitled to offset from future payments funds for activities that were not carried out or that were carried out contrary to the approved working plan.

The Disengagement Authority believes that social assistance activities should continue in 2006. Experience during the initial absorption period has shown that a coordinated transfer of budgets by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the local authorities, would be preferable to the existing mechanism in which the  Disengagement Authority provides the support funds.

4. The cabinet discussed the establishment of security rooms in the greater Gaza Strip area, in residential structures that were built for the rental needs of Gaza Strip and northern Samaria residents in the context of the Disengagement Plan.  The cabinet decided as follows:

The communities will build securiyu rooms within 60 days of the signing of an agreement between the various communities and the Disengagement Authority, which will fund 50% of the costs up to NIS 40,000 per security room. The communities will be given the possibility of receiving loans from the Disengagement Authority, on terms to be established by the Finance Ministry accountant-general, on the condition that the Disengagement Authority’s total cost (grant and loan) does not exceed NIS 80,000 per security room.

5. The cabinet, pursuant to its authority under the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), decided to extend Science and Technology Ministry Director-General Mina Teicher’s tenure of office until May 31, 2006, or until the appointment of her successor, whichever comes first.

6. The cabinet, pursuant to its authority under the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), decided to extend Education, Culture and Sports Ministry Director-General Amira Haim’s tenure of office until June 10, 2006, or until the appointment of her successor, whichever comes first.

7. The cabinet discussed the continuation of policy in 2006 regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

8. The cabinet discussed the continuation of anti-rabies vaccinations among feral dogs and wild animals in 2006.