Territories Re-open with Slow Start As Fewer Palestinians Obtain Permits

The re-opening of the territories got off to a slow start this week, with Israel granting only some 1,350 work permits to Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Plans for lifting the closure, imposed a day after an Oct. 19 suicide bus bombing in the heart of Tel Aviv that killed 23, had originally called for the issuance of 8,000 work permits to be divided equally between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Because of security concerns, the permits were to have been issued to married Palestinian men over the age of 30, with priority given to white-collar employees and construction workers who had previously been allowed to work in Israel.

Younger single men were regarded as a higher risk because it was from among this group that terror squads generally found their most willing volunteers.

But on Monday, Israeli civilian authorities in Gaza granted only 1,000 permits to the Palestinian authorities for distribution to the local population, and by Wednesday, only 900 had actually been used.

In the West Bank, Israel had distributed only some 350 permits by Wednesday.

Some Israeli officials suggested that the delays in the distribution and use of the permits were at least partly due to a disbelief among Palestinians that the lifting of the restrictions was actually being carried out.

Many workers are said to fear that the restrictions may be re-imposed at any time, and that Palestinian workers employed in Israel may find themselves detained by police for minor problems.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to lift the closure when he met with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat at an economic summit held earlier this week in Casablanca, Morocco.

The closure, which Israel has imposed in the past as a means for preventing terrorist assaults on Israelis, blocked some 60,000 Palestinians from working in Israel.

In the wake of the Oct. 20 closure, the Cabinet agreed to import some 15,000 foreign workers in construction and 4,000 in agriculture to replace the barred Palestinians.

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