Israel on Monday launched a special bus service to transport Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to work in the Jewish state, triggering accusations of racism from a local rights group.
The service to Tel Aviv and central Israel starts at the military post at Eyal -- near the West Bank city of Qalqilya -- where Palestinians with permits to enter Israel are checked before being allowed to board.
Israeli media said the service was launched in response to complaints from Jewish settlers in the West Bank who said sharing public transport with Palestinians was a security risk.
The transport ministry denied charges of segregation, saying that there was no prohibition on Palestinian permit holders using regular Israeli public transport either to travel through the West Bank or within the Jewish state.
"The minister of transport directed the ministry's director general to ensure that all announcements regarding the new lines that began operations today will be posted in both Hebrew and Arabic, and to ensure that the service will be unrestricted and equal for all populations," the ministry said in a statement.
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"Palestinians can travel on all public transport lines in Israel including Judaea and Samaria," it added, using the Biblical term for the West Bank.
Israeli rights group B'Tselem was unconvinced.
"This is simple racism," spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told AFP. "This bus segregation is appalling."
"They all have security clearance so arguments of security and their own comfort are simple a cover for simple racism."
One of the Palestinian passengers waiting to board on Monday, Tareq Salemeh, said the idea was a good one but more frequent service was needed to meet demand.
"It's very good, but there should be a bus every 10 minutes, because people have to wait a long time," he told AFP.
Some 360,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, circled by about 2.5 million Palestinians.