World Bulletin/News Desk
An Israeli mayor has imposed a partial ban on employing Arab workers in his city in a sign of mounting security concerns.
Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni announced on Facebook that he was stopping "until further notice" the work of Arab labourers building bomb shelters in nursery schools in the city of 113,000, which is close to the Gaza Strip.
He also said guards would be posted at about 40 pre-schools near construction sites where Arabs work.
Many Israeli building workers come from the country's Arab community, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, and Shimoni's edict drew criticism from senior government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prime minister said in a statement there was "no place in Israel for discrimination against its Arab citizens" and an entire community must not be blamed for the actions of "a small and violent minority".
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she had asked the attorney-general to examine the mayor's move.
Shimoni brushed off the threat of legal action.
"Whoever thinks this is illegal can take me to the Supreme Court," he told Channel Two television. "I prefer, at this time, to be taken to the Supreme Court, and not, God-forbid, to be taken to a funeral of a kindergarten child."
Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni told Israeli public radio on Thursday morning that the decision had been prompted by "pressure from parents" amid heightened tensions in the occupied territories.
He added that he had not expected the decision to draw critical reactions.
"Those who seek political gains from this issue must realize that my decision was only aimed at protecting Ashkelon's citizens," Shimoni asserted.
Israeli Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, for his part, blasted the move, telling the broadcaster that government officials "should not encourage attempts to harm relations between Jews and Arabs."
"Terrorism should be dealt with very firmly, but without punishing an entire people," Cohen said.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset (Israel's parliament), also slammed the decision, describing it as "racist and ridiculous," as well as "illegal."
Arab citizens account for roughly 20 percent of Israel's population of about 8 million, according to official Israeli figures.
Shimoni's decision followed an attack earlier this week by two Palestinians on a West Jerusalem synagogue that left five Israelis dead.
The attack was the latest episode in an ongoing wave of upheaval that has engulfed Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank in recent months.
It was initially triggered by the abduction and murder of a Palestinian teenager and Israel's subsequent military onslaught on the Gaza Strip in which over 2,160 Palestinians – the vast majority of them civilians – were killed.
Moreover, increasingly frequent intrusions by Israeli officials and Jewish settlers into East Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – along with fresh restrictions on Muslim worshippers – have angered Palestinians and often led to clashes.
Tensions mounted further when Israel temporarily closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in late October after an extremist rabbi was injured in a drive-by shooting in West Jerusalem.
Since then, six Israelis – including two security personnel – have been killed and several others injured in a spate of attacks by Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the occupied territories.
On Thursday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch ordered that gun control rules be loosened so that private guards could carry weapons off-duty. More gun permits will be issued to retired military and security officers.Last Mod: 20 Kasım 2014, 14:31