February 8, 2016 / 1:52 PM / 2 years ago

Israel eyes more entry permits to Palestinian workers to douse tensions

Palestinian labourers from the West Bank illegally cross Israel's controversial barrier in the southern West Bank in this June 22, 2013 file photo.Ammar Awad/Files

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel plans to increase the number of entry permits it grants to Palestinian workers, Palestinian and Israeli sources said on Monday, in a drive to ease economic hardship that has contributed to a wave of Palestinian attacks.

Publicly, the Israeli government has accused Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Islamist groups, of inciting violence. But Israeli security officials have also cited desperation among young Palestinians who see a bleak economic future for the occupied West Bank.

A Defence Ministry official confirmed a report in the Haaretz newspaper on Monday which said Israel would increase the number of work permits given to Palestinians by 30,000. "A few plans are being looked at," a second Israeli official said.

About 55,000 Palestinians currently have permits to work in Israel, mostly in construction and agriculture, the Bank of Israel says. They must clear Israeli security checks before the documents are issued.

An additional 30,000 undocumented Palestinian laborers also enter Israel each day. The new plan would raise the number of Palestinian workers vetted by Israeli security officials.

Police say most of the near-daily Palestinian attacks since October, which have included stabbings, shootings and car rammings, have been carried out by Palestinians who cross into Israel without permits from the West Bank.

The attacks have killed 27 Israelis and one U.S. citizen in the past four months. Israeli forces have killed at least 156 Palestinians in that period, 101 of them assailants, the authorities say.

It was not immediately clear when the plan would be implemented and whether it needed final approval from Israel's security cabinet.

The Palestinian Workers' Union said it had received notification of the permit plan from Israel.

"Workers are supposed to begin to apply for the permits," said its secretary, Shaher Saad.

In the West Bank, about 30 percent of Palestinians between the ages of 20 and 29 are unemployed, according to data from the Palestinian Statistics Bureau for the third quarter of 2015.

Israeli Workers' Hotline, a rights group, said Palestinian laborers were often subject to exploitation.

"They provide cheap labor," said Raja Zaatry, the group's coordinator for Palestinian workers, adding that they rarely enjoyed pension, health and minimum wage rights.

The bloodshed has also stemmed from Palestinian frustration over long-stalled peace talks, which have failed to end Israeli occupation of lands they seek for an independent state, and anger at perceived Jewish encroachment on a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones

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