n the event of a disaster - natural or otherwise - there is no escape for the average Jerusalemite. But this is not true for all the city's residents. According to the Jerusalem weekly Yerushalayim, the government is spending tens of millions of shekels on an underground bunker and escape tunnel to be used by the prime minister and senior members of the government in case of emergency. A special elevator shaft has reportedly been completed under the area scheduled for future construction of the new building that will house the Prime Minister's Office and official residence in Kiryat Hale'om (the National Precinct). The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to In Jerusalem's repeated requests to confirm or deny the report. In the event of an emergency, IJ believes, this elevator will whisk the prime minister and senior government officials underground to a special reinforced bunker, complete with a situation room equipped with sophisticated communications and other equipment, in which the government can continue to meet and function. In addition, the shaft connects to an underground escape tunnel, where vehicles will be stored, in case the prime minister or other senior officials have to make a speedy exit from the city. The western exit of the escape tunnel (which the newspaper claims has already been built) is located in Emek Arazim, adjacent to the Route One exit from the city. The entire project, which is being carried out by the Defense Ministry, is said to be scheduled for completion some time in 2007. Work supposedly began two years ago on excavation of the escape tunnel exit in the area of Emek Arazim. Unlike other building projects in the city, this one was approved by a special planning and building committee during the time that Ehud Olmert served as mayor, and he was briefed by top Defense Ministry officials. While IJ questioned the Prime Minister's Office about the emergency bunker and escape route, as well as plans for the new building, the office's media adviser related only to the tender put out for the building's design. The tender was awarded more than six years ago to Ram Karmi, the internationally acclaimed architect who co-designed the Supreme Court building together with his sister, Ada Karmi-Melamed. The Prime Minister's Office stated that it could give no information on the estimated costs of the project since "only an initial plan has been prepared. [and] the project and budget have still not been approved." Emergency escape routes for senior government officials exist in various capital cities around the world. Supposedly, Washington D.C. has more than 20 such exits from various government office buildings and the White House. Israel already has an underground war room serving the heads of the defense establishment, located under the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv and nicknamed the "bor" (pit). Over the past few years, security personnel have repeatedly raised the need for a similar "pit" in Jerusalem to serve the government. The prime minister's residence in Rehavia is known to be problematic from a security point of view. Located in the heart of a residential neighborhood, it has few access roads, and those that exist are very heavily trafficked. In addition, its location has caused innumerable problems for local residents - inconvenient closing of streets, noisy demonstrations, security worries, etc. It was therefore decided to build the PM's new residence together with the new prime minister's office in Kiryat Hale'om, a special area for government offices that can be properly secured and will have easy access roads. The area will also include a helicopter pad. It is rumored that there will even be one road that will serve only the prime minister, senior ministers and top defense establishment personnel. Kiryat Hale'om, which is estimated to cost some NIS 100 million, will unite all offices in one central location - instead of having them scattered around the city. Kiryat Hale'om covers the area between the current Kiryat Hamemshala (government office buildings, Knesset, Bank of Israel and Supreme Court) and the International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha'uma). It is bound by Shazar Boulevard to the north, Ben-Zvi Boulevard to the east, Ruppin Boulevard to the south and Road 4 to the west. In addition to bringing all governmental authorities into one area, the project also includes construction of a new road connecting the compound to the entrance to the city and underground parking facilities and revitalization of the area once occupied by the Foreign Ministry compound and the temporary Central Bus Station - in the form of upscale residential housing and commercial and public buildings. Historic buildings in the downtown area once used as ministries - such as the old Palace Hotel on Rehov Agron and Beit Frumin, the former Knesset building on King George Avenue - have been or will be restored and/or reconstructed by private entrepreneurs. The building of Jerusalem's "pit" is part of the second stage of Kiryat Hale'om. The first stage, which is now nearing completion, includes a new building, which already houses the ministries of Transportation, Industry, Trade and Labor, and Tourism; and another new building, which is home to the Foreign Ministry. Another building, completed a number of years ago, and intended for the Ministry of Science and the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), is still unoccupied. This is due to objections by the ILA workers' committee, which claims that the site emits dangerous electromagnetic radiation. In addition to the new Prime Minister's Office and residence, the second stage also includes a new building for the Health Ministry and other government authorities.

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