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Israel Reopens Gaza Crossing - 2004-01-18

The Israeli military has reopened the main border crossing from the Gaza Strip, allowing thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel for work.

Israel shut down the Erez crossing Wednesday after a suicide bomber killed four Israelis and damaged the terminal.

The attack was carried out by a 22-year-old Palestinian mother of two, who was a member of the militant group Hamas.

Up to 15,000 Gaza residents who have Israeli work permits had been expected to cross into Israel Sunday, but early reports from the border station indicated that strict inspection procedures were significantly slowing operations.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz says Israeli authorities have tightened restrictions on who may cross into Israel from Gaza, raising the minimum age for Palestinians seeking border passage from 28 to 35.

In Jerusalem, Israeli government leaders are beginning detailed discussions today about the route that a controversial new security barrier will follow inside the West Bank.

Government sources say the plan may be changed, in order to make construction of the barrier easier to defend before the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The United Nations General Assembly has asked the World Court to open hearings next month about the legality of the razor-wire-and-concrete barrier.

Israel's High Court also is to hold a hearing about the barrier, which the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says is necessary to defend against terrorist attacks staged by Palestinians.

Palestinians say the barrier is part of an Israel scheme to grab Palestinian land.

Reports in Israel say the government may decide to alter the route of the barrier, so it would make fewer deep penetrations into Palestian territory.