A decision was made Sunday to take further steps in the ongoing policy to ease restrictions on Palestinians not involved in terror activity.
has permitted 4000 Palestinian neighbors from the West Bank to enter Israel for work, bringing the total number of those given entry to 16,000. In addition, 500 West Bank merchants were granted access to Israel, bringing the total number of merchants to 12,500.
For the upcoming Christmas
celebrations, 500 worshippers from the Gaza Strip
will be permitted to enter Jerusalem
today and on December 8. Some 2000 Palestinian workers from Gaza are permitted to enter Israel, bringing the total number of those with authorized entry to 1000.
Israel also granted permits to 1000 merchants, bringing the total number of merchants permitted to enter Israel from Gaza to 2000.
On Saturday, Israel reiterated threats made last week to block Palestinians from access to the Karni and Erez crossings if the flow of terrorists into Gaza continues. The threat came as the Palestinian Authority
ordered an urgent investigation into several border officials at the Gaza-Egypt crossing.
Israel was outraged that terrorists, including the brother of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar
, were allowed to enter Gaza, and threatened to declare its other borders with Gaza international crossings, a move that would sever a customs deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians can make the following choice, according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
spokesman Ra'anan Gissin: "Do they want the free passage of terrorists, or the free passage of goods and merchandise?"
He said future punitive steps could include scrapping the deal with the Palestinian Authority, imposed under the Oslo process, by which they receive certain customs and tax benefits. Instead, the border could become international, a move which would hurt Palestinians more than Israelis, including limiting the former's movement, according to Gissin.
He said the flow of terrorists previously denied access to Gaza and the difficulties Israel has encountered monitoring the Rafah
border with Egypt indicate the agreement about Rafah has been been breached.
PA Civil Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan
, who is overseeing the crossing, paid a surprise visit to the border on Saturday, just a week after he took control of the Palestinians' first international border, officials said.
The border was formally reopened November 25, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
personally intervened to broker a deal that Israel and the Palestinians had been negotiating for six months. If the Palestinians successfully run the border, preventing terrorists and arms from entering Gaza, it could help restart peace talks.
Dahlan ordered an inquiry into border officials he accused of violating orders and the US-brokered agreement, officials said. He also made the border authority the top security force at the crossing, an attempt to eliminate problems caused by competing security forces, the officials said.
Dahlan's visit to the border and the inquiry came after concerns European monitors had about the return to Gaza of at least 10 terrorists, said Jose De La Guardia, the spokesman of the European monitoring contingent.
, the European Union
foreign policy chief, spoke on the phone with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the issue, De La Guardia said, and "the visit and the investigation is a product of these phone calls... We are concerned about these suspects crossing."
Dahlan also decided to coordinate with the Egyptians to nail down any problems that could arise on that side of the border, the Palestinian officials said.
Dahlan's moves are "part of his efforts to make sure that this crossing facilitates to ease the life of the Palestinians and not to create more complications for their daily life," said an official at Dahlan's office.