(photo credit: )
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stated in a press conference on Thursday that the Defense Ministry and security forces would not be weakened by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hospitalization.
He reaffirmed that heading Israel's security system is a group of responsible, experienced people who are doing everything necessary to ensure Israel's safety. He noted that the new situation did not require any security deployment that was more extensive than at the present.
Addressing the Israeli people, Mofaz said that they could be confident that the sensitive and complex situation to which Israel is now exposed would not weaken the security forces. The IDF, the Shin Bet (Internal Security) and Israel Police would continue to work with determination in order to protect Israel's security, he concluded.
He related that he planned on meeting Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to update him on the security situation.
The defense minister expressed support for Olmert, saying that the whole security system, with Mofaz at its head, stand behind Sharon's deputy, and would do whatever it takes to aid him in his important tasks.
Earlier Thursday, in an attempt to send a message of "business as usual," the Prime Minister's Office announced that the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday would take place as scheduled.
The meeting will be chaired by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert chaired a cabinet meeting at 9 am Thursday to signal the orderly transfer of powers.
"This is a difficult situation that we are not used to," Olmert said at the opening of a meeting that ended roughly half an hour later.
He said that after receiving a briefing from Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, "we will at the end of the meeting return to running the affairs of the state, and continue to pray and hope for good news from the hospital."
On the financial front, markets were roiled on Thursday by the news that Sharon was fighting for his life.
Olmert, in an apparent effort to stabilize the economic market, put out a statement saying that he spoke with Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, and the two agreed that the economic policies would remain the same as they were until now.
At the cabinet meeting, Olmert said that in the name of the entire government he sent "a hug to Omri and Gilad, Arik's beloved sons, and prays with them for his recovery. Arik is not only a prime minister and leader, but a close friend of us all."
Olmert ended his brief comments, his first public remarks since assuming full prime ministerial powers at about 11.30 pm Wednesday night when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was rushed into surgery to stop cerebral hemorrhaging, saying that "this is a difficult hour, and we will all stand together."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters after the meeting that beyond prayer and hope, the message coming out of the cabinet meeting was that "the government is working."
Livni, widely considered a possible challenger to Olmert for eventual leadership of Kadima, said "I will do everything I can to help the acting prime minister function, lead the government, and make the right decisions. I am sure my colleagues, the other ministers, will do the same."
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