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The New Arab

Israel uses coronavirus fears to impose severe restrictions on Palestinian workers

Only Palestinians serving in 'essential sectors', such as healthcare, will be allowed in [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 March, 2020

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The measures build on earlier curbs on Palestinians entering Israel in aftermath of the outbreak, which included a ban on anyone over-50 and the closure of a Gaza crossing.

Israel's defence minister on Monday announced a set of sweeping restrictions on Palestinian workers entering the country from the Occupied Territories, allegedly part of efforts to combat the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country.

The stringent measures will see the Palestinian migrant workforce slashed in half, with only 60,000 of a possible 120,000 serving in sectors deemed "essential" by Israel allowed in, according to The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site.

The workers, many of whom commute daily through Israeli military checkpoints from cities and villages across the West Bank, will now be expected to remain in Israel for up to two months in employer-provided lodgings, The Times of Israel report.

The changes announced by Defence Minister Neftali Bennett will come into force on Wednesday and build on earlier curbs on Palestinians entering Israel. These included a ban on anyone entering aged over-50 and the closure of the Eretz crossing with the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel now has 304 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the country's health ministry, leading the government to roll out strict measures which have shut down large parts of the economy.

Citizens have been urged to remain at home, with only essential services, such as supermarket and clinics, expected to remain open.

The dire situation has also prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use emergency powers allowing the country's internal security agency to track those suspected or confirmed of being infected through monitoring their mobile phones.

Read more: Shin Bet swaps spying on Palestinians for snooping on Israeli coronavirus patients

The invasion of privacy has raised serious concerns in the country, with The Association for Civil Rights in Israel describing it as a ''dangerous precedent'', and Nitza Horowitz, leader of the liberal opposition party Meretz, calling the tracking of citizens as amounting to ''a severe violation…of basic civil liberties''.

Netanyahu's authority to implement the measures were also bought into question, with the country's battle against the virus offset by a continued political crisis.

The former is currently Israel's interim leader, while his opponent, Benny Gantz, is the prime minister-designate and attempting to form a government, although it remains unclear whether he can muster the support he needs among the ranks of the Knesset.

The restriction on Palestinian workers also came as Bennett extended the Israel-imposed lockdown of the city of Bethlehem.

There are now 39 cases of COVID-19 among Palestinians in the West Bank, the vast majority in Bethlehem.

Analysts fear the major havoc the pandemic could wreak on the Palestinian Authority, which is struggling to cope with its limited resources and weak healthcare system.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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