(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today (Monday), 25 December 2006, ordered the implementation of the plan that was submitted to him by the security establishment, in the framework of which a series of steps will be taken to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The Prime Minister directed that restrictions be eased immediately for the Palestinian population in order to strengthen moderate elements and implement the agreements and understandings that were achieved at his Saturday (23 December) meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Israel Police Inspector-General Moshe Karadi, Defense Ministry Director-General Gabi Ashkenazi and other senior IDF and security establishment officials attended a meeting with Prime Minister Olmert this afternoon at which wide-ranging staff work was presented designed to ease Palestinians’ daily lives.

The gradual plan includes several stages. Its goal is to ease restrictions on the lives of the Palestinian population that is not involved in terrorism. In this context, several immediate steps will be taken in order to affect Palestinians’ daily lives, including increasing the amount of goods to be transported through the crossings, increasing the volume and capacity of the various checkpoints so as to enable them to considerably shorten the lines of residents waiting to be checked, increasing the number of transit permits for the population that does not constitute a security risk, increasing the quantity of goods that may be exported from – and imported to – the Gaza Strip, reducing the time required to check people and goods, etc.

In the plan’s second stage, which was also approved, roadblocks and checkpoints at dozens of places throughout Judea and Samaria will be lifted. Prime Minister Olmert noted that it is the political echelon that will direct the implementation of the second stage in keeping with developments in the coming days.

Prime Minister Olmert also decided to implement a wide-ranging plan to pave dozens of interchanges along Highway #60, which bisects Judea and Samaria. According to security establishment data, paving the interchanges will reduce by approximately 40% the friction between the Palestinian population and IDF soldiers. In practice, paving the interchanges will enable the Palestinians to travel more easily – and without roadblocks – between rural communities and the main towns in Judea and Samaria.  The cost is estimated at tens of millions of shekels.

Prime Minister Olmert said that it was the government’s intention to significantly ease restrictions on the Palestinian population that is not involved in terrorism and to enable a reasonable fabric of life for Palestinian citizens. "The proposed plan is likely to contribute to improving the atmosphere, strengthening moderate forces and distancing the civilian population from the cycle of terrorism. My hope is that by Eid al-Adha, the Palestinian population will feel a considerable improvement in its fabric of life. This is not say that we are slacking off in our was against terrorism; we will continue to fight terrorism with the same determination."