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Palestinian Protesters Block Gaza Crossing - 2004-02-17

Hundreds of Palestinians have blocked the main border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, protesting new security measures that cause lengthy delays for workers headed to jobs in Israel.

Protesters began gathering at the Erez crossing before dawn Tuesday, blocking the road to enforce a day-long strike. Some carried banners proclaiming the "right to work in dignity and without being humiliated."

The protest was prompted by the death of a Palestinian worker, who collapsed Monday while waiting in line at the check point. Israel says the 41-year-old man died of a heart attack.

Security at the checkpoint has been greatly tightened since mid-January, when a female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up there, killing four Israelis.

Meanwhile, on an official visit to Berlin Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said his top aides will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's senior staff on Thursday to try to plan the two leaders' first meeting.

In a separate development, the Israeli parliament's finance committee approved Monday more than $20 million in new funding for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The move challenges the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan, which calls for Israel to halt all settlement activity.

Some information for this report provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.