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Israel, Palestinians Fight Over Towns (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/30/03 11:31 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5732-2003Jul30.html
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JERUSALEM - A disagreement erupted between Israel and the Palestinians at a meeting Thursday, with Palestinians holding out for larger localities after Israel offered to turn over two towns.
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The meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian minister in charge of security, began late Wednesday at a hotel outside Jerusalem and continued until 1 a.m. Thursday.
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Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mofaz offered to turn over the towns of Qalqiliya and Jericho to Palestinian security control, as part of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
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However, they said, the Palestinians did not agree. In the past, Palestinian officials have said they wanted control of Ramallah, their West Bank administrative capital, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been marooned for more than a year by Israeli forces. Mofaz said Israel would consider the Palestinian requests, and the two officials would meet again.
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The meeting was the first high-level session since a round of talks in Washington - separate summits between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas with President Bush. Sharon met Bush on Tuesday, and Palestinians complained that in his public statements, he took the Israeli side in disagreements.
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Interviewed on the Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera on Wednesday, Abbas said he told Bush during their meeting on Friday that Israel must allow Arafat freedom of movement. "He is our president and we don´t accept any other one," Abbas said.
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The "road map" plan was at the center of both White House summits. It calls for an end to nearly three years of violence and return of Palestinian control over West Bank population centers. The plan leads through three stages to a Palestinian state in 2005.
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The Israeli officials said Mofaz complained to Dahlan that because there has been no such crackdown, the violent groups are using the truce to rearm. He said militants in Gaza are stocking up on homemade rockets with expanded ranges that could hit Israeli cities.
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Palestinian officials had no immediate comment about the meeting, but earlier, they said that among other issues, Dahlan would demand a faster release of Palestinian prisoners than Israel is proposing, and a halt to construction of a security barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
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Israel´s imprisonment of about 7,700 Palestinians has become a main point of contention. Israel has agreed to free several hundred, but the Palestinians want a mass release, and militant groups are threatening to call off their truce unless the prisoners are released.
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About 200 Palestinians marched in Gaza City on Wednesday to call for prisoner releases. Nafez Azzam of Islamic Jihad said Israel´s proposal to release several hundred was "as if someone is trying to throw dust in our eyes."
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In his White House statement Tuesday, Bush backed away from overt criticism of the security barrier and adopted the Israeli line on prisoners, saying that terrorists must not be freed.
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Palestinians object to the security barrier between the West Bank and Israel because its route cuts deep into the West Bank in some places to encircle Jewish settlements. Palestinians demand all of the territory for a state.
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In the Al-Jazeera interview, Abbas said, "The truth is that the fence ... could not provide security," he said. "It is a racist fence of separation, uncivilized and at the same time it is built on Palestinian land."
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Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that good fences make good neighbors, but not if built between Israelis and Palestinians.
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"I know it´s a conventional wisdom that fences make good neighbors, but that is if you build the fence on your own land and you don´t disrupt your neighbor´s life," Annan replied when asked about the fence Israel is building over Palestinian protests.
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At a news conference Wednesday in Washington, Bush praised Abbas´ vision of peace. "I believe him when he says that we must root out terror in order for a Palestinian state to exist," Bush said.
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Also Wednesday, an Israeli military court sentenced a leading militant, Ahmed Barghouti, to 13 life sentences after convicting him of orchestrating attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that killed 12 people. Barghouti, 27, is an aide and cousin to Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian uprising leader also trial in Israel, charged with murder. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/30/03)
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