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The number of laid-off Israelis reached 17,500 in December - a new high for the country, according to a report released by the Israeli Employment Service on Sunday.

High-tech workers, especially software engineers, were hardest hit, with 690 fired in November and December, compared to 100 in parallel periods. There has also been a significant rise in the number of people from the center of the country who were fired from their jobs - 7,900, nearly double the 4,000 in the north.

There were 205,800 unemployed people in the country in December, an increase from the approximately 200,000 jobless the month before.

There were 8.3 percent more college-educated job seekers in December than there had been in November, and 4.8 percent more people without a college degree who were looking for work. The number of people seeking supplemental income benefits rose by 1.2 percent last month.

The Bank of Israel expects this year to be worse for the Israeli economy than 2008. In its update of an economic forecast released two months ago, the central bank predicted a recession in 2009, accompanied by a negative growth of 0.2 percent and an unemployment level rising to 7.6 percent.

According to the Bank of Israel, the recession will end in 2010, with accompanying growth of 2.7 percent.