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Israel May Ease Restrictions on Palestinians - 2003-10-29

Israel may begin easing restrictions on the Palestinian population after a month of closures and curfews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Army Radio reports that Israel may soon begin to allow several thousand Palestinian workers and merchants back into Israel and that travel restrictions in Palestinian cities and towns and between communities are also to be eased.

The Israeli military has put varying restrictions on the Palestinian territories since the outbreak of violence more than three years ago. Israel closed off the West Bank and Gaza and imposed curfews a month ago. The tight closures were imposed prior to the Jewish New Year holiday, because of fears of attacks, and have been extended since then.

Israeli media reports say Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has come under pressure from the upper echelons of the military to ease the plight of the Palestinians.

Newspapers quote military officers as saying that continuing tight closures do not enhance Israel's security, but rather increase hopelessness, desperation, and anger among Palestinians. And that, they say, strengthens militant groups and increases the risk of future attacks against Israelis.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily quotes one unidentified officer as saying Israel was stingy with former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, by not being more forthcoming in easing restrictions and turning control of West Bank cities back over to the Palestinians.

When Mr. Abbas resigned in early September, he sharply rebuked Israel for having done nothing to move the fragile Roadmap peace plan ahead. Israeli military officers are now quoted as saying that Israel should not make the same mistake with the current Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Several newspapers talk about sharp criticism by military officers of the political establishment. Defense Minister Mofaz reportedly turned down a request last week by Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon to begin easing the closures and blockades on Palestinian population centers. But when touring the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Mr. Mofaz told reporters the government wants to take every step possible to ease the plight of the Palestinian population.