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Israeli Cabinet approves more cuts in 1997 budget

JERUSALEM, Dec. 9 (JTA) — The Israeli Cabinet has approved additional budget cuts of about $550 million. The government already had approved a total of $1.6 billion in cuts from the $64 billion 1997 budget. The Knesset must approve the budget by the end of the month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the additional cuts were essential to reduce the deficit and get the economy back on track. “If we don’t cut, let there be no doubt that we will pay with a deterioration in our standing in the financial markets and in our credit rating,” the prime minister was quoted as telling the Cabinet on Monday before the vote. Many of the additional cuts will come in the areas of education, social welfare and housing. Foreign Minister David Levy, Tourism Minister Moshe Katsav, Interior Minister Eli Suissa and Labor and Social Welfare Minister Eliahu Yishai voted against the additional cuts in the 14-4 Cabinet vote. A compromise was reached to lessen the cuts in education to only 0.6 percent, after Trade and Industry Minister Natan Sharansky offered to shoulder some of the burden. “When it was clear to us that many ministers were asking to lessen the cuts in education, Minister Sharansky offered to give more from his ministry, so we could take less from education,” Finance Minister Dan Meridor told reporters afterward. Opposition parties sharply criticized the Cabinet decision. Labor party officials said they doubted the approved cuts would be implemented. The Knesset is set to debate next week no-confidence motions submitted by the opposition over the budget.