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Uprising puts 2 million Palestinians in poverty

By Steve Weizman

Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- A World Bank report published Wednesday said almost 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live on less than $2 a day, triple the number before violence erupted in September 2000.

A U.N. report put out in tandem with the World Bank survey said the traumatized Palestinian economy was a result of ongoing Israeli military closure of the Palestinian territories and called on Israel to ease restrictions.

But after a suicide bus bombing in Haifa on Wednesday that killed 16 people, including the bomber, Israel's Security Cabinet decided to close off the Bank and Gaza Strip until further notice, the military said early today.

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During 29 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Israel has banned Palestinian workers from entering the country and has enforced curfews and internal closures in the West Bank and Gaza that have crippled the economy.

Israeli officials have said the restrictions are necessary to prevent terror attacks.

"The Palestinian economy is devastated," U.N. Mideast peace envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said at a joint news conference. "The public sector, on life support; the private sector, rapidly deteriorating.

However, he acknowledged the constant deadly attacks on Israelis and said Israel would not ease its blockade as long as such violence persists.

"No population should suffer such murderous attacks or even the fear of such attacks," he said.

The World Bank report said 60 percent of Palestinians, or 2 million people, are living beneath the poverty line.

But Roed-Larsen said that massive aid would not solve the problem. Instead, Palestinians should be given the opportunity to manage their own affairs.

"They cannot do this without access to markets, to services, to workplaces, to one another," Roed-Larsen said. "That is, only once Israel lifts its restrictions on the movement of goods and people."

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The World Bank's director for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Nigel Roberts, said that an American-led war in Iraq should not be allowed to distract world attention from the plight of the Palestinians.

Roberts said a main reason the Palestinian economy had not collapsed altogether was international aid of about $2 billion to the Palestinian Authority budget over the past two years.

The authority employs about a third of Palestinians still working and pays half of all wages earned in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. With each Palestinian public sector employee supporting up to 18 other people, budget support was the most effective way to get aid to the community, Roberts said.

He added that, of the 125,000 people on the Palestinian Authority payroll, about 60,000 were employed in the various security services.

Roed-Larsen said that, in picking up the tab for economic damage caused by Israeli measures, the international community was effectively subsidizing Israeli occupation, something which donors were becoming reluctant to do.

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