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EDITIONS
 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 13:32 GMT
Israel's jobs service 'to hire new staff'
Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has devoted more time to security than the economy
Unemployment in Israel remains stubbornly high but at least one organisation is still hiring workers - the state-run employment service.

The service has been in talks with the Finance Ministry about increasing its number of workers to cope with the large number of unemployed, its director Avner Ofri was quoted on Israel Radio's website as saying.

It has also decided to extend its opening hours because of expectations that unemployment will continue to rise, Israel Radio said.

The reports came as official figures showed a rise in unemployment in November to 10.5%.

Hi-tech hit

Israel's economy is mired in what is commonly described as its worst recession for 50 years.

Economists in Israel attribute much of the trouble to the effects of the breakdown in relations with the Palestinians.

The priorities of the 2003 budget must be changed in order to... reduce unemployment

Shlomo Benizri, Labour & Social Affairs Minister

But Israel has not escaped the global economic downturn, with its formerly high-flying hi-tech industry particularly hard hit.

Many analysts expect national economic output to drop in 2003 for the third consecutive year and say a sustained up-turn is unlikely until a settlement is reached with the Palestinians.

Despite this, the economy has not been among the top election issues - security, and the debate over the religious or secular nature of Israel have featured more highly in campaigning ahead of the 28 January poll, according to analysts.

Higher priority

Economists say the government will have to slash spending this year - probably pushing unemployment higher - if it is to meet its target budget deficit of 3% of gross domestic product.

But Labour & Social Affairs Minister Shlomo Benizri believes unemployment should be given higher priority.

"The priorities of the 2003 budget must be changed in order to resuscitate the economy and reduce unemployment," Ha'aretz newspaper on Monday quoted him as saying.

The finance ministry believes the jobless rate will hit 12% some time this year, Ha'aretz said.

November's 10.5% figure compares with 10.4% the previous month and 10.2% in November 2001.

See also:

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