Following are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today:

"Today, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the chief reserves officer will brief the Cabinet on the IDF reserves in the framework of IDF Reserves Appreciation Day.  There is no need to say that the IDF has always been based, first and foremost, on the reservists who have been the backbone of our military strength, have participated in all of Israel’s wars and were a decisive factor in all of Israel’s victories.  The Government highly esteems its reservists and will give expression to this at the start of today’s meeting.

On another issue, director, actor, singer, Israel Prize laureate and Jerusalemite Yossi Banai  was laid to rest last Friday.  In the last two years we have lost several of the State of Israel’s finest artists, with Yossi Banai being the latest.  His unique voice had a central place in the story of the renewed Jewish state in the Land of Israel.  Yossi was a rare combination of styles and cultures, of the classical and the modern, the old and the new, that turned him into an Israeli cultural icon.

And finally, on another issue entirely, today we will take our leave from outgoing Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Director-General Ilan Cohen.  He has been with us in recent years and it seems to me that there is no need to say that he was beloved and appreciated by all ministers.  At times, the previous Government excelled at its differences of opinion on various issues, which caused more than a few shocks that have already become part of history but on one issue there was certainly wall-to-wall agreement in the Cabinet and the entire political establishment, and this was that Ilan was special: incomparably fair, efficient, serious, responsible, dedicated.  He was involved in all of the Government’s major decisions, especially the Disengagement Plan, in which he led on almost all aspects related to its implementation and did so prudently, sagaciously, sensitively and successfully; for this, he is justly deserving of all praise.  Ilan, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, the previous Cabinet, and the State of Israel, I would like to thank you, praise you and wish you success in the future.  You are not entirely leaving us because I have asked that you continue to advise me since your understanding and counsel are important to me.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome incoming PMO Director-General Ra’anan Dinur, who will take up his post upon Ilan’s departure."