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Most Israeli Municipalities Declare General Strike in Solidarity with Housing Protests

by Rotem Starkman

Most municipal authorities have declared a one-day strike scheduled for Monday, in sympathy with popular protests spreading throughout Israel.

Saturday's mass protest in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Yaron Brener) Municipalities will not be giving services to government offices or holding public office hours today, streets will not be cleaned and garbage will not be collected.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu redoubled efforts to douse growing protests spreading throughout the country Sunday, even as he faced a setback in the resignation of Finance Ministry Director General Haim Shani.

Shani reportedly quit over the lack of organization in proffering solutions to the crisis, and over the work of Netanyahu and his direct superior, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Discussion began of a replacement for Shani, with Moshe Terry, the former chairman of the Israel Securities Authority, seen as likely to take over the treasury.

Netanyahu called an informal meeting of the committee on economic concentration yesterday to discuss solution for the protests, but no decisions were made.

Netanyahu urged its members to make recommendations by the end of the month, and showed the press a presentation of the issues on the agenda.

Terry is close to Delek Group head Yitzhak Tshuva and reportedly assisted him on a number of matters. Tshuva's conglomerate is one of the businesses being examined by the committee on economic concentration.

Netanyahu has also decided to establish a team of ministers and economists, whose makeup is still not final, to speak with the protesters. The panel is to invite various groups, hear them out and make recommendations.

The government also decided yesterday to reduce the tax on gas by 30 agorot per liter for a period of one month, thereby avoiding the price hike of the same amount planned for this morning dictated by the global price rise. The move will cost the government NIS 80 million.

At the end of the month, the cabinet will hear the recommendation of a committee formed to study gas prices and decide how to proceed. The government hopes that oil prices will drop by that time, which will make it unnecessary to continue the reduction in the gas tax.

The government also decided to double the home heating grant for senior citizens who are welfare recipients. However, the grant will be given only to seniors living in areas defined as cold by the National Insurance Institute.

Despite the moves, mutual recriminations have persisted between the Prime Minister's Office and the treasury. The treasury continues to oppose Netanyahu's steps from last week on housing, among them incentives to contractors to build in the center of the country based on the cheapest price to the end user and incentives to convert offices in apartment houses back into residences.

The treasury says such measures merely fan the flames of protest, while the Prime Minister's Office says the treasury has not studied the issue properly.

Gili Cohen contributed to this report

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