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Israel Grants Work Permits to Palestinians

January 4, 2004

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel on Sunday granted work permits to 29,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an attempt to ease stifling restrictions, the army said.

Under international pressure to make life easier for Palestinians, Israel recently has granted permits to several thousand other Palestinian laborers. The permits allow the workers to enter Israel for jobs.

Sunday’s permits were granted to 19,000 Gazans and 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Jordan Valley, the army said.

While the permits bring some relief to the Palestinians, the number of workers remains far below the estimated 150,000 Palestinians who used to work in Israel before the outbreak of violence in September 2000.

Israel has clamped suffocating restrictions on Palestinians since the start of the fighting. The army said it limits travel and work permits to prevent Palestinian militants from entering the country.

However, the restrictions have dealt a near death blow to the fledgling Palestinian economy _ which was highly dependent on work in Israel.

Unemployment and poverty are rampant in the Palestinian territories, and the international community _ led by the United States _ increasingly has pressured Israel to ease the restrictions.

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