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The Knesset Finance Committee yesterday approved an increase of NIS 1.5 billion in the payouts to settlers evacuated under the disengagement plan, bringing the budget to a massive NIS 3.5 billion.

Around 80 percent of the additional funds, some NIS 1.2 billion, will be awarded as compensation to the evacuees. Of that figure, NIS 800 million will go to individual claimants, NIS 300 million will go to businesses, and the remainder will be given to the military to cover costs it incurred during the pullout.

These funds will be added to the NIS 900 million already set aside as compensation for the evacuated settlers.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said that the additional funds were necessary due to the increase in the number of compensation demands filed by settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

Finance Committee chair MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said he plans to hold a separate meeting in which ministerial representatives will provide details on the settlers' compensation.

Disengagement Administration head Yonatan Bassi explained the increase yesterday by saying that the government had pledged to uphold the standard of living enjoyed by the settlers before their relocation.

"We promised the Gaza evacuees that we would maintain the lifestyles to which they were accustomed. Buying them seaside villas in Bat Yam is out of the question, so the next best thing is buying them half a dunam in Ashkelon," Bassi said.

The government has spent hundreds of millions of shekels buying expensive real estate, some of which even Bassi admits was unnecessary.

Nevertheless, Bassi said he is in the process of buying additional lands, although some evacuees have not yet decided where they ultimately wish to live.

"We have two settlements, each with about 70 people who are thinking about moving in, but they have yet to decide. Because they haven't made up their minds, we have no option but to prepare more than one site for each settler," Bassi said.