Facebook Twitter



In retaliation for attacks against Israelis, the army sealed the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, sent more troops into the occupied lands and loosened rules on opening fire and making arrests.

The Gaza Strip has been closed since Monday because of an earlier killing of a Jewish settler.The crackdown was the harshest since the 1991 gulf war and was likely to further erode support among the Palestinians for the stalled peace talks with Israel.

The police minister proposed banning all private West Bank and Gaza cars from entering Israel once the closure is lifted. That would drastically cut the number of Palestinian workers in Israel and deal a severe blow to the already shaky Palestinian economy.

The closure of the occupied lands paralyzed many construction sites in Israel, and the nation's contractors association announced it would fire all 65,000 Palestinian workers and try to replace them with Israelis.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin issued the order barring all 1.8 million Palestinians from entering Israel after two police officers were gunned down Tuesday in central Israel, bringing to 13 the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians in March.

During the same period, 26 Palestinians, including six children, were slain by Israelis.

"We sealed the territories for an unlimited period of time to bring calm and tranquility and to stop this friction between the two entities, the two peoples," said Rabin spokesman Gad Ben-Ari.

But Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian negotiating team, said the crackdown would only heighten frustration.

"I think the closure is an escalation of collective punishment," Ashrawi said. "It will contribute to the causes that have created the cycle of violence."