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Israel Eases Its Closure of Gaza and West Bank

September 02, 1997|From Associated Press

TEL AVIV — Israel eased its closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday to allow in a few thousand Palestinians--a move that Palestinian leaders dismissed as a token gesture that does little to help their stymied economy.

The United States reportedly was working on a compromise to get peace talks restarted. Under a deal to be proposed during next week's Mideast visit by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Israel would slow settlement expansion and the Palestinians would rein in Islamic militants, the Haaretz daily said.

In a conciliatory gesture, Israel relaxed the closure imposed on the Palestinian areas after two July 30 suicide bombings in Jerusalem.

The army said 4,000 laborers, 2,000 merchants, 250 teachers and 200 employees of the Palestinian Authority could enter Israel as of this morning.

The numbers are only a fraction of the 100,000 Palestinians who worked in Israel before the closure, and Palestinian officials said Israel's move was not enough. "To give passage to a few people is like putting cosmetics on a truly ugly face," Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that further relaxation of the blockade will come in stages, "according to the security situation and with the thought of easing life for the Palestinians as much as possible."

The Palestinian Authority estimates that each day of the closure costs its economy $8 million in lost wages and trade; the World Bank puts the daily losses at between $4 million and $6 million.

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