Netanyahu Issues Price 'Easements'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced a package of easements Thursday evening to address price increases of fuel, water and basic foodstuffs. The easements carry a 1.1 billion shekel price tag per year and a 2.2 billion shekel price for 2011-2012.

"The question has come up as to what we are doing about the distress that has arisen in light of the increases in commodity prices," Netanyahu said in a televised address.

"The first thing we will do is recognize that we have no control over the price of raw materials in the world. There is genuine distress and we want to deal with it responsibly," he said.

"The steps we have formulated are designed to help those who do not have and not those who have," the prime minister continued. "This is a fair and responsible package of steps that provides socio-economic solutions in a considered matter without breaking the budgetary framework."

The package includes a countrywide 10 percent reduction in public transportation fares and subsidies to improve service between city centers and the periphery.

The government also addressed water consumption in view of the continuing drought.

An across-the-board increase in water supplies will reduce water bills for the average consumer. The government promised to double the quantity of subsidized water to people with disabilities, while penalizing excessive consumption with a price increase.

The government also cancelled the last tax increase on fuel and promised to consider the marketing factor in regulating the price of gasoline and diesel fuel.

In the hopes of averting a countrywide general strike, threatened by Histadrut Labor chairman Ofer Eini this week, the government supported an agreement proffered by Eini to raise the minimum wage in the private sector. Netanyahu said workers in the public sector "whose true wages are low" will be increased.

Netanyahu and Steinitz hope to enter negotiations with the Histadrut to apply the increases right away.

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