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Israel Eases Some Restrictions on Palestinians' Movement - 2003-11-02

Israel allowed more than 6,000 Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip to cross into the Jewish state on Sunday. The decision represents a continued easing of restrictions imposed on the Palestinians following a suicide bombing one month ago.

Palestinian laborers lined up at the Erez Crossing in the northern Gaza Strip from dawn, and submitted to stringent security checks.

The workers, all over 35, were given permits to go back to their jobs in Israel, ending a month-long ban that had denied them access to their employment.

The move follows Israel's decision on Thursday also to allow more than 4,000 Palestinian laborers and merchants in the West Bank to go to work in Israel.

The easing of restrictions on Palestinians came in the wake of strong criticism from the head of the Israeli army, General Moshe Ya'alon, who blamed the government for not trying to improve conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He said the continuing closures on both areas had been stirring Palestinian hatred, and setting the climate for more suicide bombings.

The strict closures began in September for the start of the Jewish High Holy Days, but were extended following a Palestinian suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa in October that killed 21 people.

The restrictions meant that nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could not travel to Israel, and many could not visit other Palestinian communities.

Many Palestinian farmers were also prevented from reaching their fields to harvest olives, one of the area's staple commodities.

Israel says it has no wish to harm ordinary Palestinians, and imposes restrictions from time to time only to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers from harming its citizens.