Israel launched two Palestinians-only bus lines in the occupied West Bank on Monday, a step an Israeli rights group described as racist and which the Transport Ministrycalled an improvement in service.
The left-wing Haaretz daily reported the ministry opened the lines, to be used byPalestinian laborers travelling between the West Bank and Israel, after Jewish settlers complained that Palestinians on mixed buses were a security risk.
"The Ministry of Transport has not issued any instruction or prohibition that preventsPalestinian workers from travelling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria," it said, referring to the West Bank.
"Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport is not authorized to prevent any passenger from using public transport services."
He said he did not know whether and how this might affectPalestinian travel on regular buses.
Herzl Ben-Zvi, mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement, said the new lines "answer the needs of all passengers - Palestinians and settlers" because they would relieve overcrowding on buses in the area.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and maintains a network of roadblocks in the territory. Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, for a future state - a claim supported by most world powers, which view the settlements as illegal.