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The Finance Ministry intends to privatize all activity at Eilat's port.

Under the privatization plan, rights to operate activities at the harbor will be transferred to private concerns for extended periods. In addition, the treasury intends to drastically cut back the labor force at the port: instead of the current 140 workers, between 20 to 30 workers will be employed there.

Finance Ministry officials disclosed details of the plan to port officials last week.

Port workers will be given the option of voluntarily resigning and gaining a share of the revenue to be accrued via the privatization. The share of the revenue will be determined according to severance packages received by workers at the Ashdod and Haifa ports.

Eilat port workers refused to meet with ministry officials to begin negotiations. Yesterday, the Histadrut labor federation announced that the workers oppose the harbor's privatization.

Also yesterday, Finance Ministry officials made it clear that they will continue with the structural reform at the port, and will not accept any delays in its implementation.

Eilat's port opened for cargo in 1957, and is designed to serve as Israel's southern point of entry for cargo from the Americas, Asia and the Far East. In contrast to the country's other ports, activity at Eilat is very limited in scope: it receives annual subsidies from the Ports Authority in order to stay afloat.

Acording to Ports Authority data, some 1.6 million tons of cargo passed through Eilat's port in 2002 compared to 14.7 tons in Ashdod and 17 million tons in Haifa.

The number of boats that entered Eilat port in 2002 was 115 compared to 2,742 at Ashdod 3,067 at Haifa.

The treasury plan is part of its policy of "structural reforms" for the ports that was announced five months ago. Negotiations being conducted between ports' delegates and Finance Ministry officials have led to an arrangement by which 49 percent of stock belonging to the Ashdod and Haifa port companies will be sold to the public in January 2005, while the remaining shares are to be controlled by the government.