Only 2,000 of the 10,000 Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip who had been authorized to cross into Israel actually did so Sunday, Israeli defence ministry sources said.
"We have authorized 15,000 Palestinians, two-thirds from the Gaza Strip, to come and work in Israel, but only 2,000 of them crossed from the Gaza Strip", a spokesman told AFP.
"It could be several days before the number of Palestinians crossing over corresponds with the number of permits delivered", the spokesman, Moshe Kariv, said. He could not provide an accurate figure on the number of Palestinian workers who crossed over from the West Bank.
Israel allowed Friday, April 27, 11,000 more Palestinians to work in Israel, in addition to the 4,000 who had already been given such authorization over the past few weeks, the defense ministry announced.
"Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer authorized Friday 11,000 additional Palestinians to come and work in Israel from Sunday. They will be added to the 4,000 Palestinians who already obtained work permits in recent weeks," a ministry statement said.
A further 6,000 Palestinians have been allowed to work in Israeli firms established in the Palestinian territories and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the statement added.
Ben Eliezer has also ordered the military to examine the possibility of easing the crippling blockade imposed on the Palestinian territories and restrictions on movement within them.
"We hope the Palestinians will respond to this Israeli gesture on the social and economic front by fighting against violence and terrorism", defense ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror told AFP.
"This is only a first contingent of 11,000 workers. We wish to allow tens of thousands more Palestinians to come and earn their living in Israel, but it is obvious that if there are attacks, this process will stop and we will take a step back", he said.
Ben Eliezer, in an interview with the BBC broadcast Friday, said he would shortly "give orders to open the border for tens of thousands of people to get back to work in Israel. I want the majority to know that they are not my enemy," he said. "Whether I like it or I don't like it, we are going to be neighbors for ever."
According to Dror, permits are renewed for "those who don't have a terrorist profile, that is to say, who are at least 35, married and with children".
Before the intifada, or uprising, erupted on September 28, some 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, half of them with permits and the other half illegally, Dror said. But when Israel imposed a closure on the Palestinian territories a few days later, all these workers were made jobless.
According to police estimates, some 20,000 still managed to enter Israel illegally every day to go to work. According to United Nations statistics, the unemployment rate has reached 60 percent in the Gaza Strip and 40 percent in the West Bank, up from an average of 11 percent before the blockade. — (AFP, Jerusalem)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)