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Netanyahu to Tackle Israel's Housing Crisis

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) speaks as he sits next to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (L) and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias during a news conference in Jerusalem, July 26, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking steps to address the country's housing crisis, following nearly two weeks of growing protests over rising rents and prices that have hurt the government's approval rating.

The Israeli leader went on national television Tuesday to announce measures aimed at reducing the cost of housing, primarily for students and the poor.

He said the housing problem in Israel is a real crisis. It is not fabricated or artificial.

He added that the government next week will take two big steps. It will remove restrictions on residential planning, and remove restrictions on the sale of land for residential construction.

Netanyahu also pledged to build 10,000 dormitories for students, and announced reforms to planning commissions, which he said would bring 50,000 low-cost units to market within 18 months.

The plan was met with skepticism by protesters, who in the past 12 days have erected tent cities in major urban centers across Israel. Critics say government bureaucracy is partly responsible for the spike in housing costs in recent years.

A protest tent city outside the Old City wall, Jerusalem, July 26, 2011
A protest tent city outside the Old City wall, Jerusalem, July 26, 2011

Protesters also held a large demonstration Saturday in Tel Aviv and a march Sunday at the Israeli parliament.

A poll published Tuesday by the Haaretz newspaper said the housing protest is supported by 87 percent of the Israeli people. It also said public approval of the Netanyahu government has fallen to 32 percent from 51 percent two months ago.

Israel's economy has expanded by more than four percent in recent years, but critics say the prosperity has been enjoyed primarily by the wealthy. They contend that rising prices are stressing household budgets among the middle class and the poor.

A consumer boycott of cottage cheese last month led to a price cut of the popular staple. And doctors have been striking for the past four months for better pay and working conditions.

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