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

"Last Friday, US President George Bush and his wife Laura concluded their visit to Israel.  You all witnessed the many exceptional, symbolic events that characterized this visit, especially the US President’s historic Knesset speech last Thursday.  While everyone will, of course, interpret the circumstances surrounding the speech, as they will, the remarks remain as they were made by the President of the most important and strongest superpower in the world.  Such statements about the State of Israel have never been spoken before by a US President in the Knesset.  We can all, once again, express our deepest appreciation and gratitude that the US is unconditionally committed to the existence, security, prosperity and stability of the State of Israel.  But beyond the ceremonial events, the visit was also marked by a long series of meetings.  I had long talks with him.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak and I held strategic discussions with him on the most sensitive and important issues regarding bilateral relations, including the issues that top the agenda, namely the Iranian and Syrian issues, the situation in Lebanon, the negotiations with the Palestinians and the situation in the Gaza Strip.  It seems to me that it is possible to say in the most precise way that all emerged from these talks with the feeling that we have someone and something we can rely on.

Thirty minutes after Air Force One took off from Israel, US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrived here at the head of a bipartisan Congressional delegation; she told me that senior members of Congress fought over who would join the trip.  Her visit gives prominent expression to the entire American political establishment’s commitment to the State of Israel and I think that this is a very important visit.  The State of Israel has always taken care that its relations with the US does not solely depend on the important, vital and practical channel that flows through the White House.  These relations also represent the broadest spectrum of the American public’s positions and views, as they are reflected in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Speaker Pelosi’s visit is certainly an expression of this.  I will host the delegation for lunch tomorrow; the Knesset will also host it.  I think that we must honor her.  This is not a usual or routine visit; it is certainly very important.

This morning, we will also discuss a proposal to grant Development Area ‘A’ status to the industrial zones in Sderot and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.  We are doing this in order to reinforce our social and economic backing and support for area residents as part of the effort to strengthen their protection and fortitude as they cope with the reality that we are experiencing in the south.  This is in addition to the recent wide-ranging activity of Home Front Command and the Defense Ministry in order to quickly complete the plans that we have committed to regarding the reinforcement of schools and residential structures in these sensitive areas.

We are very close to a critical point regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip.  The current situation cannot continue.  I do not know if it would be proper to go into details; I do not think that it would be correct at the current time to go into all aspects of the issue and hold a discussion via the headlines.  Suffice to say that we are convinced that it is absolutely impossible to let the situation in the south go on as it has in recent months.  The critical point regarding how matters will be conducted is very close.  Of course, our mission is to see to it that the residents of the south live tranquil and secure lives without being under constant threat as they have for a very long period."