(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday (Wednesday), 20 December 2006, convened the Cabinet for Strengthening Haifa and the North in order to approve detailed Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) plans for strengthening communities in the north, Haifa and communities near the Gaza Strip. The Government will invest a total of NIS 2.75 billion in the north. The investment plans were prepared by the PMO and the Vice Premier’s Office in accordance with the 14 September 2006 Cabinet decision.

The various ministers and their directors-general presented their ministries’ plans, which focused on achieving four main goals: 1) Strengthening the education system; 2) Boosting employment in order to reduce social gaps; 3) Strengthening specific population groups (the elderly, immigrants, minorities and children and young people at risk); and 4) Encouraging Israelis to move to the north.

Prime Minister Olmert emphasized the importance of strengthening local councils as an inseparable part of the plans’ success and said that "The Government must continue to wok to develop and strengthen the Negev and the Galilee as a strategic goal that is vital for the future of the state of Israel." Vice Premier Shimon Peres welcomed the plans’ approval and said that Israel must continue investing major resources in the Galilee. PMO Director-General Ra’anan Dinur commended the fruitful cooperation of the various ministries.

Dir.-Gen. Dinur announced that approximately NIS 400 million will be invested over the next four years in upgrading and refurbishing Poriyah Hospital in Tiberias, Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon and the French, Italian and Scottish hospitals in Nazareth. The project will be financed by the Government, the hospitals and non-governmental bodies.

Prime Minister Olmert said that starting in 2007, the Cabinet for Strengthening Haifa and North would convene at least once a quarter in order to monitor the progress of the plans. By mid-2007, a strategic plan for strengthening Haifa and the north for 2008-2010 would be submitted for approval. The Prime Minister thanked the various ministries that took part in formulating the plans and commended the ministers for their constant efforts.