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Israel Temporarily Seals off Gaza As Violence Erupts at Checkpoints

Israel’s temporary closure of the autonomous Gaza Strip area is intended to improve security procedures at the Gaza checkpoints, according to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The closure, which went into effect Sunday for an unspecified period of time, prevents all local Palestinian residents, including those with valid work permits, from entering Israel.

The closure was imposed a day before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators convened in Cairo to discuss the next phase of Palestinian autonomy.

It also came amid reports that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat would be arriving in Gaza this week to begin the task of governing the autonomous regions.

Uri Dromi, director of the Government Press Office, admitted the closure could hurt the atmosphere at the Cairo negotiations, but added that Israel’s “interest lies in the border being secure.”

The clampdown was imposed following three days of riots at the Erez crossing point at the northern end of Gaza.

Palestinian workers seeking entry to Israel were apparently angered by the bureaucratic practices in force at the crossing point, which resulted in long delays under a hot sun while identity papers and work permits were scrutinized.

According to a statement issued by the Israel Defense Force, three Israeli soldiers were injured and electricity lines were damaged in a melee that erupted Sunday.

Rabin ordered the temporary closure, based on the recommendation of army commanders in the area, to enable the IDF to examine and improve the procedures at the Gaza crossing points.

Some 50,000 Gaza Strip residents hold work permits for employment in Israel, mainly in agricultural and construction jobs.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, meanwhile, Israeli troops reportedly killed two Palestinian terrorists Monday after placing the town under curfew earlier in the day.

The two men, members of the Izz a-Din al-Kassam military faction of the rejectionist Hamas movement, were wanted for killing at least two Israelis, according to an IDF statement.

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