Business in Brief

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250,000 Israelis to spend Passover abroad

The number of Israelis headed out of the country for the Passover holiday this year will reach 250,000, travel industry executives said yesterday. About 100,000 are flying out on El Al Airlines, and the carrier says it's adding 30 flights between March 24 and April 3. The most popular destinations for this year's holiday are Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Thailand and the United States. Visitors to Europe generally stay from four to seven nights, while those to North America will mostly be away for one to two weeks. El Al carried 266,400 passengers in January, down 2.5% from a yea rgo, the Airports Authority said. (Zohar Blumenkrantz)

Sharp downturn for housing deals in January

After three straight months of increasing activity in the real estate market, home sales took a 15% dive in January compared with the previous month, according to a Finance Ministry report released yesterday. The number of transactions, however, remained 22% higher than in the same month last year. The downturn was felt everywhere in the country except Hadera, and was particularly pronounced in Be'er Sheva, which registered a 27% drop. Some 21.2% of homes were bought for investment purposes, marking the fourth consecutive month that figure has declined. The percentage of homes bought for investment was down 23% in January compared with December. Erez Cohen, a former chairman of the Property Assessors Asscoation, said the January figures showed that the run-up in home prices at the end of last year was a one-time phenomenon caused by concerns about govenrent intervention. (Raz Smolsky )

Cement-production malfunction disrupts supply to Palestinians

Cement sales to the Palestinian Authority have been curtailed to avoid disrupting the supply inside Israel in the wake of a two-week production breakdown at the Nesher cement plant at Ramle, according to industry sources, who said fixing the problem will take weeks. Other sources, however, discounted the problem and said Israeli customers are reporting a disruption in supply but believe the problem will be fixed within a week and won't affect the economy. Nesher confirmed the report but stressed that only customers in the Palestinian Authority are suffering any disruption in supply. (Ora Coren)

Textile workers union warns of job losses from end of quotas

The head of the textile workers union, Shalom Schindler, warned yesterday that an end to import quotas on textiles and clothing since the beginning of the year will put thousands out of work. The industry currently employs 10,000 workers in Israel and has exports amounting to $800 million a year. Speaking with outgoing Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, Schindler said, "We've reached an absurd situation where imports from China and the United States, such as cloth, zippers and buttons, enjoy zero import duties despite these countries imposing duties on their imports to protect the local manufacturers." Ending the quotas was one of the key proposals of the government's Trajtenberg committee on economic and social reform aimed at bringing down prices for consumers. (Haim Bior )

A luxury apartment building in Tel Aviv. Overseas buyers are snapping up apartments to escape paying taxes on undeclared funds. Credit: Viewpoint