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The Knesset passed a bill to set up a witness protection program in its first reading on Thursday.

The bill would set up an authority to change the identities of threatened witnesses and to protect them and their families before, during and after the trial.

The legislation outlines the structure of the new authority, and would set up a steering committee headed by the attorney general to set policy regulations for witness protection and identity changes.

The policy would define criteria for accepting witnesses into the program and draft plans to protect them and reintegrate them and their families into society under their new identities.

Currently, police can protect witnesses only until the end of the trial. In special cases, the police can subsidize plane tickets abroad for witnesses.

The lack of a witness protection program has deterred many potential witnesses from taking the stand for fear of retribution.

Participants in the witness protection program would receive government documents, such as an identity card and a passport, under their new identity, and could be relocated to other countries. However, marital status will not be changed, and witnesses will not receive documents attesting to fictitious education, skills or licenses.