(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday (Tuesday), 29 August 2006, convened a meeting of the Cabinet for Strengthening Haifa and the North, in Hatzor Hagalilit. He said that the entire north was currently facing "an historic opportunity" that would enable it to develop and strengthen. He added that, "For us, the current situation constitutes an opportunity to do something we have been talking about for decades. The fighting will spur comprehensive development work that will strengthen the entire area." In the wake of his recent tours of the area, the Prime Minister said that there was a great difference between the reality on the ground and the descriptions regarding the neglect of the home front. "There were difficulties, but in the vast majority of cities there was administration, control and oversight at a high level."

Education Minister Director-General Shmuel Abuav and Chief Coordinator for the Reconstruction of Public Infrastructure in the North Amos Yaron told ministers that the school year would open on time at all schools in the north. The necessary repairs at schools that were hit during the fighting would be completed by Sunday, 3 September 2006. As of Monday, 28 August 2006, summer camps were operating in all northern confrontation line communities. The enlisting of 140 psychologists and 160 educational advisers in order to reinforce the schools’ professional staffs was underway.

Israel Tax Authority Director Jacky Matza said that at this stage, compensation payments had been made to over 10,000 business owners in Haifa and the north, or 42% of the 24,000 claims filed to date. He emphasized that in many instances the compensation was paid within a shorter time than the Authority had committed to in advance. Regarding compensation for direct damages, over 4,200 families have been compensated in full so far. The number of claims was correctly estimated Monday night at 17,000. He said that the queues at property tax centers in the north have been significantly shortened in recent days. He reported on the indirect compensation agreement that had been formulated for August, in the framework of which business owners would be able to receive compensation as per the loss of income and not just per the number of employees.

Regarding those suffering from shock, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Avi Yisraeli said that on Sunday, 27 August 2006, four treatment centers had been opened.  A fifth opened yesterday (Tuesday), 29 August 2006, in Nazareth. In accordance with the plan that was formulated by the relevant task force, telephone contact has recently been made with most of those who arrived at hospitals and were diagnosed as suffering from shock. Health Ministry data indicates that after the telephone interviews, approximately 70% were invited to clinics for additional checks. Prof. Yisraeli said that there was a problem in locating those suffering from shock who did not receive treatment and were suffering from anxiety and stress. He added that the educational system has allocated 110 positions and 4,000 counseling hours to treat children and youth.

Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Director-General Ra’anan Dinur briefed ministers on long-range indices for assessing the success of the effort to strengthen Haifa and the north. He said, inter alia, that per capita income in the north is approximately 30% lower in proportion to similar data for Tel Aviv and the center of the country; the rate of participation in the work force was lower and unemployment was higher.

Earlier yesterday (Tuesday), 29 August 2006, Prime Minister Olmert and PMO Dir.-Gen. Dinur held working meetings with the Tiberias and Hatzor Hagalilit city/town councils, and visited Amiad, where they met with confrontation line forum leaders.