JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday approved new residency criteria that could result in the deportations of hundreds of children of migrant workers.
The decision by Israel's Cabinet represented a small step to clear up the status of thousands of foreign workers in Israel.
Under the decision, children of migrants whose parents entered Israel legally may remain if they are enrolled in school, speak Hebrew and have been there longer than five years.
An Israeli advocacy group, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, estimates 700 of 1,200 school-age children are at risk of deportation, along with their parents.
About 200,000 migrant workers live in Israel, mostly from the Philippines, China and Africa. About half have overstayed their visas, some for many years. Many have children who were born in Israel and know no other home.
Some Israelis complain that illegal migrants are taking jobs from citizens. Others worry that non-Jewish workers could upset the Jewish nature of the society.
"On the one hand, this problem is a humanitarian problem," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday told the Cabinet, which had debated the move for nearly a year. "We all feel and understand the hearts of children. But on the other hand, there are Zionist considerations and ensuring the Jewish character of the state of Israel."
The prime minister sternly warned Gaza's Hamas rulers of reprisals for weekend rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory on Israeli communities.
Early today, a huge blast leveled the house of a Hamas commander in southern Gaza, wounding at least 32 people, according to Palestinian security officials. They said the blast was the result of an Israeli airstrike, but Israel's military denied it.