Fri, 6 Jun 1997

GENEVA (Reuter) - Israel's closure of the occupied Arab territories and construction of new Jewish settlements produced greater economic and social hardship among Palestinians last year, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said Friday. The United Nations agency, in a report by its director general Michel Hansenne, also said there was ``no evidence'' that stringent closures had been effective in preventing guerrilla activity. With employment prospects for workers in the occupied territories ``very dim,'' the Palestinian Authority must create a large number of permanent jobs ``if the risk of serious social and political upheaval is to be averted,'' the ILO said. ``The employment and income...of workers of the occupied territories has steadily deteriorated since the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993,'' it said. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, there have been 392 working days of total closure between 1993 and 1996, including 99 last year. The intensification of closures last year was compounded by a rapid rise in the number of new settlements and the massive roadworks program underway to interconnect them with Israel and Jerusalem through bypass roads, according to the ILO report. ``In the short-term the obvious priority should be to establish the conditions for the normal operation of a labor market, in particular the removal of hindrances to the movement of people and goods within and among the territories and across borders,'' the 35-page report added. The annual ``Report on the Situation of Workers of the occupied Arab territories'' was issued to the ILO's 174 member states, holding their International Labor Conference until June 19. Israel's delegation was expected to respond in debate. This year's guest of honor will be Jordan's King Hussein, who is also expected to back the report in his June 13 speech. The report is based on an ILO mission to Israel and the occupied Arab territories from Feb. 21-March 5, the 20th such investigation since 1978. Regarding the 99 closure days throughout the territories in 1996, ``39 comprised a total siege of the cities of the West Bank,'' according to the statistics of the Palestinian Authority.

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