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The Housing Ministry decided on Thursday to allow pensioners to leave Israel for up to 72 days without losing their rent assistance benefits.

Up until now, elderly citizens would lose their rent assistnace benefits, provided by the Housing Ministry, if they were absent from the country for more than 60 days.

The Ministry's decision followed a change made by the National Insurance Institute, which provides elderly and disabled citizens with various stipends. The NII in January extended its 60-day absence restriction to 72 days.

This led some NII and Housing Ministry benefactors to believe the criteria regarding rent assistance payments had also been changed to allow 72-day periods of absence.

After the NII's policy change in January, many rent assistance recipients, assuming the Housing Ministry had also changed its policy, left the country and found their benefits had been discontinued upon their return after more than 60 days.

Alex Tentzer, chairman of 'Gil,' a political party representing pensioners, said many elderly citizens who are immigrants leave Israel for long periods of time to visit relatives or to receive medical treatment in their country of origin.

Gil petitioned Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit to change the ministry's policy in accordance with that of the NII, allowing pensioners to stay overseas for 12 days longer.