PM promotes Lachish region as new home for Gaza evacuees

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged on Tuesday to start building new homes for 400 Gaza evacuee families in the Lachish region within six months. "There is no limit to the area's potential," said Olmert as he visited the empty construction site in the South. "I would like, not in one year, but already within six months to come here again to see the tractors working and to breathe in the dust, to see the foundations being poured and the buildings rising," he said. "There is no reason that this will not happen." Government plans call for creating seven new communities in Lachish with approximately 4,600 housing units. About 400 of the units have been earmarked for Gaza evacuees still living in temporary homes. During Tuesday's visit, evacuees criticized the government's "foot-dragging" in building the permanent housing, 18 months after the Gaza withdrawal. Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit was also critical of the process and urged Olmert to speed up the efforts. "There is absolutely no justification for this. With all due respect, this is not the way to run things. This could have all been approved in a day," he said. The initial resettlement timetable called for all Gaza evacuees to have permanent homes within two years of the August 2005 disengagement. According to the Disengagement Authority, only about 200 of the 1,350 Gaza families who plan to build new homes have received building lots from the state. The lots in Lachish have yet to be formally assigned. Olmert promised to push the work forward as quickly as possible. "From now on the Lachish vision is the government of Israel's vision. This is one of the most beautiful and inspiring parts of the country, and perhaps it has waited for the right people," he said. He said he hoped that within 25 years, tens of thousands of people would live in the now sparsely populated Lachish area. "There are no limits on what can be done and developed here," said Olmert. He said his vision included cultural institutions, agriculture and tourism. "These [new] communities are an opportunity for us to turn the Lachish region into a national center for building up the country in the coming years," Olmert said.