Israeli Cinema Council chairman Eli Zohar has unexpectedlybeen replaced by Ronny Milo, a former Minister of Culture and the ex-mayor ofTel Aviv.

The move has taken the entire Israeli film industry bysurprise. The news was announced by Culture Minister Limor Livnat .

The founding chairman of the Film Authority when it launchedin 2000, Zohar is one of the country's leading legal minds and has beencredited for with helping Israeli cinema's strong performance in recentyears in terms of both volume and quality.

The Cinema Council is Israel's main state film fundwith a budget of Euros10m in 2004 to cover film production, film festivals,film schools and cinematheques.

Zohar's term was due to end this year, but it wasgenerally understood that Livnat favoured an extension of Zohar's periodin office by two more years.

However, after a general outcry caused by her decision, aspokesman for the Ministry denied Livnat had ever made any such pledge and saidit was only normal for her to choose a new chairman to replace Zohar, who hasreached the end of his term.

Milo joins the Council at a sensitive time, when the sourceof its budget is about to be change.

Instead of being granted 50% of royalty fees paid by thecountry's broadcasting bodies, the Treasury and the Ministry of Cultureis proposing to pay its funds direct - making the body dependent on thelargesse of politicians.