The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the building of a huge new army base town midway between Beersheba and Dimona that will include nine IDF training facilities currently located at Tzrifin. "This is a historical decision that will create a completely new reality, and is one of the most important issues this government has dealt with since its establishment," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, waxing enthusiastic about the plan that is expected to create thousands of employment opportunities in the South. Defense Minister Amir Peretz agreed, saying he viewed the project as something that gave hope for the development of the Negev. The cabinet approved the plan after hearing professional opinions that its proximity to the Ramat Hovav industrial site and the hazardous waste site there did not pose a health risk. Concerns about the proximity to Ramat Hovav has held up plans to build the camp for a number of years. As the cabinet was meeting, several dozen student environmental activists protested outside the Prime Minister's Office, demanding that the cabinet refuse to authorize the move until pollution could be cleared from the Ramat Hovav area. The activists claimed that the pollutants presented a danger to anyone stationed in the area. The base, which will be spread over some 1,600-dunam near the Negev Junction, will - upon its planned completion in 2011 - house some 9,000 soldiers, including 500 career officers, and a support staff of some 2,000 people. IDF sources said the base would replace the training schools currently located in Tzrifin near Ramle. Tzrifin is home to the IDF Medical Corps School, the IDF Home Front Command School as well as a number of additional training facilities for the different military branches. Hundreds of courses will be given annually at the new base to thousands of soldiers. Olmert told the cabinet that hundreds of families were expected to relocate to the Negev to be close to the base. Funding for the project, expected to cost in excess of NIS 3 billion, is to come from the sale of Tzrifin's evacuated bases for real estate development. The new base will function as a real city with a train station, swimming pool, a hospital, movie theater and several other entertainment spots for soldiers. "This will be the fulfillment of [former prime minister] David Ben-Gurion's dream and will turn the city of Beersheba in the Negev into a real metropolitan city," a defense source said, adding that the project was supposed to add thousands of jobs to the southern region. The defense establishment is also deliberating what to call the base. Defense sources said they were leaning towards naming it after former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who is currently in a coma after suffering a stroke last year. In a related development, the cabinet approved the allocation of some NIS 181 million to fortify schools and preschools in the Gaza periphery area. This work is expected to be completed by the beginning of the school year in September.