Bedouin boys ride bicycles in the Negev desert
'Making the desert bloom' was once a national rallying cry. Adopting the idea again today will benefit the entire country. Photo by AP
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The government will be providing housing assistance for army officers who move to the Negev desert region, as army bases relocate from central Israel. Assistance will take the form of a two-year rent subsidy or a discount on buying land to build a home.

The ministerial committee on development of the Negev and Galilee, headed by deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom, yesterday approved a list of decisions to strengthen the two regions. In total, the moves will cost more than NIS 200 million. They include initiatives to encourage army personnel to relocate to the Negev.

At the first stage, the plan is to move about 500 families of career soldiers to the Negev. Soldiers who do not own homes in the Be'er Sheva or the Negev region will be eligible for discounts when buying land, on the condition that they do not sell the property for at least five years.

At this stage, the assistance plan applies to Be'er Sheva, Dimona and Arad. Within three months the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the Defense Ministry, the army and the Israel Lands Administration are supposed to prepare a list of additional towns slated for promotion through subsidies.

Career soldiers moving to Yeruham, Ofakim, Arad, Dimona and Be'er Sheva will be eligible to receive rent assistance. A previous version of the proposal limited the rental assistance to one year.

However, the ministerial committee has limited such aid to just 200 families, and not all cities are treated equally: People moving to Yeruham, Ofakim and Arad would be eligible to receive up to NIS 1,200 a month in rental assistance. For Dimona, assistance is only NIS 1,000 and for Be'er Sheva, NIS 800.

The entire sum, NIS 5 million in all, will come from the budget of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee.