Israel Lifts Ban on Gaza Workers, but Harsh Rules Could Cause Riots

A 14-day ban on the entry into Israel of Arab workers from the Gaza Strip was lifted Monday, but with such severe restrictions that it could cause serious disturbances in the territory, critics said.

The strongest objections came from the security services, which warned that the territory is a powderkeg that could blow at any time if the inhabitants are prevented from entering Israel, their only source of employment.

Normally, about 40,000 Palestinians from Gaza cross into Israel daily to work or to seek employment. But on Monday, fewer than 100 trickled through the barriers at the Erez checkpoint.

Their Israeli employers were required to collect them and return them there at the end of the work day.

The ban was imposed after the fatal stabbing May 24 of 15-year-old Helena Rapp, an Israeli schoolgirl in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv. Her assailant, who was swiftly captured, was a young unemployed Palestinian from the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

The killing triggered anti-Arab rioting by Jewish mobs in the Greater Tel Aviv area. The Israeli authorities sealed off the territory for the protection of its inhabitants, they said.

Originally, the ban was to have lasted a week. But it was extended because anti-Arab passions continued to run high in Israel, especially after a second Jew, Rabbi Shimon Biran, was fatally stabbed by an Arab on May 27, this time inside the Gaza Strip, where Biran was a settler.

The ban was only partially lifted Monday. Entry to Israel was limited to Arab workers over 28 who hold permanent work permits and are employed in places that employ at least 10 other Palestinians with permanent work permits.

Workers who meet those requirements were issued special passes. But all residents of the Nuseirat camp were excluded.

Arabs were not the only critics. Unnamed military sources and the Shin Bet, or General Security Services, warned that keeping some 700,000 Gaza Strip residents bottled up was asking for trouble.

IDF sources demanded that the ban be lifted in toto.

But Police Minister Ronni Milo insisted Monday that the decision to maintain limited access was taken by the police in consultation with the defense minister and prime minister and reflected their views.

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