The rising number of violent attacks against the elderly is unacceptable, and if we don't find a way to give seniors more respect, this country could fall apart Director-General of the Ministry for Pensioner's Affairs Dr. Avi Bitzur said Thursday. Bitzur has launched a series of far-reaching programs aimed at tackling violence against the elderly since taking over as head of the government office in October. "If we don't start giving respect to the elderly in this country then there will be no country left at all, they are the soul of our society," he told The Jerusalem Post. Bitzur was speaking three days before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is set to be marked Sunday and to be debated by legislators in the Knesset on Tuesday. He said there were three kinds of attacks on the elderly that typically take place: Abuse by foreign caregivers, neglect by family members and violent attacks usually perpetrated by younger members of society. Bitzur approved a NIS 7.4 million plan in March offering escort services for the elderly and neighborhood-based patrols manned by the civil guard and the police, as well as increased educational programs for youth and a help line for reporting such crimes. More than 26,432 complaints of violence were made by pensioners to various official bodies, including the police and social welfare services last year. Of that figure, 84 percent of the claims came from seniors in their very advanced years and 9% came from new immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU), even though that community only accounts for 25% of the elderly population. The most complaints received came from metropolitan Tel Aviv, with 7,651. Haifa lodged 2,130 complaints and Netanya 1,497. According to Bitzur, the way to tackle such problems is to initiate legislation - a new law demanding a minimum of five years in prison for convicted attackers has already been approved - to utilize the media and to educate the public, including school-age children. Among the projects initiated by the ministry to help senior citizens is an all-encompassing help line to answer questions and provide assistance to the elderly, which began operating less than a month ago. Within its first two weeks of operation, the help line received more than 1,500 reports of violence. Yelena Permyakov, who works for the service, said Thursday that while most of the calls involved basic questions on pensioner's rights, she had already heard some shocking stories of violence and abuse. "One man called telling us that his elderly mother's foreign worker had stolen all their money," recalled Permyakov. "He was crying when he called, telling us that he'd had to go abroad for two weeks and while he was away the carer had taken all their money and abandoned his mother. He told me that they had no money left." Permyakov said that calls of this nature were immediately referred to the police and either social welfare services or local municipalities for help. "The first thing we do is to listen to the people's complaints and to talk them through it," she said, adding that various forms of help are available to elderly people who have been subjected to such harassment. "The police are always willing to help and there are many lawyers out there who can give free advice. In addition, the National Insurance Institute can sometimes help financially if people have suffered emotional trauma." The help line can be reached at *8840.