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West Bank Palestinian bus ban suspended after claims of 'apartheid'

Israel's prime minister has frozen new rules for Palestinian workers in Israel that ban them from buses with Israelis when returning home. The defense minister said the move was a response to perceived "security risks."

Shortly after they were announced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended restrictions on Palestinian workers from the West Bank commuting home.

On Wednesday a Defense Ministry spokesperson announced that all Palestinians "who work in Israel will ... need to return home by the same crossing without taking buses used by [Israeli] residents."

The country's media reported the new rules would be trialed "under a three-month pilot project."

An official from the prime minister's office said Netanyahu had called Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon soon after the announcement was made and told him the policy was "unacceptable."

They agreed the plan would be indefinitely put on hold.

Critics slammed the rules as constituting a form of apartheid, with human rights groups calling for them to go before Jerusalem's Supreme Court.

Every day, thousands of Palestinians travel from the occupied West Bank to jobs in Israel, mostly in the construction industry.

They are required to use travel permits every time they cross the border.

Newspaper "Haaretz" reported that the now scrapped restrictions could have lengthened travel times by up to two hours for commuters.

The plan was reportedly launched in response to repeated complaints from Jewish settlers in the West Bank area. Israeli settlers in the West Bank have long called for Palestinians to be banned from using public transport in the area. They claim the Palestinian workers are a security threat, and often sexually harass female passengers.

Israeli public radio reported that the defense minster had agreed to the new rules, saying it would allow for "better control of the Palestinians and those leaving Israel, and reduce security risks."

Israel's opposition leader Isaac Herzog condemned the ban, saying it was a "stain on the face of the country."

Israel has occupied the disputed West Bank territory since 1967, which the majority of the international community considers illegal.

The United Nations has said it will look at finding new ways to restart peace negotiations

between Israel's newly formed government and Palestine,

with the last round collapsing in April 2014.

Pope Francis'

recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

has also reignited tensions between the two.

an/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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