Text size

Two airports in northern Israel, shut down since the outbreak of war over a month ago, are set to resume full operations on Tuesday.

The Haifa and Rosh Pina airports are slated to reopen to civilian traffic during the afternoon hours.

The Rosh Pina airport was used during the war by planes assisting firefighters in battling forest fires ignited by Hezbollah rocket attacks on the north.

Gov't to present benefits package for northernersAll residents of the north who return home by the end of the week will get a free bus or train ride home from the center or south of the country.

This is part of a benefits package the government intends to grant residents of the north to help them rehabilitate their lives. The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, intends to announce the package today during a tour of the north with a group of cabinet directors general.

The benefits also include another month's delay in payments of income tax, value added tax and national insurance, loans to small businesses and $600 a month in rental assistance for residents whose homes have been destroyed or damaged.

The Social Affairs Ministry will distribute some NIS 13 million to dozens of local authorities to cover immediate needs such as the purchase of home appliances, transportation to medical treatment and replacements for broken eyeglasses. Shas has volunteered to fund these efforts with the money it received for joining the coalition.

The ministry is requesting a total of NIS 50 million for short-term plans to help residents resume their everyday lives. This funding would cover support groups for local authority employees, who would then conduct support groups for residents in their communities.

The government, which has been accused of incompetence regarding the home front during the fighting, now intends to display a high profile. It has instructed spokesmen, directors general and ministers to visit and work in the north at least two days a week.

The government has set up teams to put together long-term rehabilitation plans for the health and education systems and for the local authorities.

The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee is working on plans to complete Highway 6 and a railway line to Carmiel, as well as incentives for entrepreneurs who open businesses in the Galilee and for people who move there.

The ministries have been asked to submit a list of projects they could contribute to promote the region, and next week the cabinet will receive an overall plan. The plan will be financed by the government and Diaspora Jewry.

It is vital to develop the Galilee to prevent residents and businesses from leaving, says Shlomo Buhbut, mayor of Maalot and chair of the forum for confrontation-line communities.

"The Galilee must be seriously upgraded in Israel's awareness," says Adi Eldar, Carmiel mayor and chairman of the Union of Local Authorities. "The State of Tel Aviv cannot exist without the Galilee. Whoever thinks so is making a serious mistake."

Buhbut's request that local authority representatives be included on the teams drafting the rehabilitation plans has been denied.

Today the mayors and local authority heads will meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and demand to set up a committee to map the communities' needs.

The authorities have already submitted to Dinur a list of requests ranging from funds to rehabilitate infrastructures - water, sewage and road systems - to a considerable increase of psychologists in the education system, so that every school has a psychologist.

Eldad also wishes the government to compensate the local authorities for loss of income from rates, predicting that many businesses will have difficulty paying municipal taxes after being closed or operating in reduced capacity during the fighting.