Effectively overruling his defence minister, Netanyahu froze the edicts ahead of a meeting later in the day in Jerusalem with Federica Mogherini, foreign policy chief of the European Union, a group highly critical of Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu drew accusations at home and abroad of racism two months ago when he warned on election day that Arab citizens were voting in "droves". He later apologised to members of Israel's Arab minority for the remarks.

The "transit point programme" that began early on Wednesday would have required Palestinians labourers in Israel to return to the occupied West Bank at the end of the workday via one of four checkpoints, where they would be registered. They would have needed to use Palestinian-only buses to get there.

Israeli civil liberties groups objected, as did Palestinian officials and Israeli legislators, including several from Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and the leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog of the centre-left Zionist Union.

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