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Dahlan, Mofaz Agree Timetable to Withdraw IOF from 4 Palestinian Cities - Sha’ath Doubts Israeli Good Faith in Implementing ‘Roadmap’(Palestine Media Center- (PMC) 08/16/03) Source: http://www.palestine-pmc.com/details.asp?cat=1&id=991
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Palestinian Minister of State for Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan and Israeli “Defense” Minister Shaul Mofaz have reportedly agreed Thursday on a timetable to withdraw Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) from four reoccupied West Bank cities within the upcoming two weeks, in a bid to salvage a cease-fire that is scheduled to expire on September 29, as the PNA foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath said that “all the Israeli actions point” in the direction “that the (road) map (peace plan) was imposed on Israel.”
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Palestinian and Israeli sources said the two sides were to hold new talks Friday or Sunday after Dahlan and Mofaz had what was called a “positive” session Thursday.
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Both men on Thursday discussed the transfer to the Palestine National Authority (PNA) of security responsibilities for additional West Bank cities.
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Dahlan’s office said he had raised several issues with Mofaz, including the need for Israeli pullbacks from more Palestinian towns, the release of detainees and an end to the 19-month old siege imposed on President Yasser Arafat by the IOF.
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The Israelis promised responses at their next meet, the Palestinians said.
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Dahlan and Mofaz reached the deal at a time when the “roadmap” peace plan and a truce, which was declared on June 29, seemed in serious jeopardy because of renewed violence.
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Under the Dahlan-Mofaz reported agreement, Israel would withdraw from the West Bank towns of Jericho and Qalqiliya next week and remove some military roadblocks.
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Dahlan’s spokesman, Elias Zananiri, told Reuters that the meeting proved "very positive” against expectations and he said Israel had also pledged steps to ease movement of Palestinian civilians who have been bottled up by army roadblocks.
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"At the meeting between Dahlan and Mofaz, it was agreed that Israel will withdraw from four Palestinian cities in the next two weeks,” spokesman Elias Zananieri said, naming the cities as Jericho, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Tulkarem.
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The agreement was reached during a two-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Dahlan and Mofaz, he said, their second meeting in 24 hours.
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An Israeli official confirmed the agreement.
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"They agreed that Israel will transfer security control of Qalqilya and Jericho to the Palestinian side early next week,” a senior Israeli security source told Reuters.
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"The Palestinians also will submit a plan to Israel for reassuming security responsibility over Ramallah and Tulkarm.”
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"Israel will consider this plan over the next 10 days or so and give its answer. The whole process will depend on whether we have quiet, that is, no terror attacks during this period,” the Israeli official added.
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However a report on Israeli public radio said that while Israel would transfer control of Jericho and Qalqilya next week, it would only hand over Ramallah and Tulkarem if the Palestinians met certain conditions.
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Israel would then withdraw from the towns of Ramallah and Tulkarem in the last week of August, provided there are no shooting and bombing attacks and the Palestinian security forces begin dismantling anti- Israeli occupation groups, said Shirli Eden, an Israeli “Defense” Ministry spokeswoman.
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The IOF radio meanwhile said that Dahlan had committed himself to collecting weapons from Palestinian groups and identifying their sources of funding, but he did not commit himself to breaking up “terror infrastructure,” as demanded repeatedly by Israel and the United States, it added.
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Zananieri refused to confirm or comment on either report.
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Taking down the roadblocks is seen as a major confidence booster. Israeli checkpoints, set up at the start of fighting nearly there years ago to keep out militants, have all but paralyzed life in the West Bank.
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Dahlan and Mofaz negotiated the agreement in back-to-back meetings late Thursday and on Friday. "The meeting was very constructive,” Dahlan said.
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He said Israeli roadblocks on the outskirts of the four towns would be removed.
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The US-sponsored “roadmap,” which was drafted and adopted by the EU, the US, the UN and Russia, requires Israel to pull back to positions held before the outbreak of the Intifadah in September 2000.
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In a first phase, Israel withdrew from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem in July.
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The accord appeared to be aimed at salvaging a six-week-old truce that has frayed badly this week from two Palestinian bombings retaliating for continued Israeli army raids that have extra- judicially assassinated “wanted” Palestinian activists and netted others.
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Mofaz and Dahlan last met two weeks ago but the meeting ended in failure after Mofaz refused to pull troops out of the West Bank cities of Hebron and Ramallah, offering only the much smaller towns of Jericho and Qalqilya.
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Israel’s privately run Channel Two television said the talks the meeting was aimed at “rescuing the ceasefire” announced by Palestinian groups on June 29 after the IOF’s killing of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank city of Hebron placed new strain on the truce, the television said.
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EU Concerned, Urges Restraint
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Meanwhile the European Union Thursday expressed deep concern at a resumption of violence in the Middle East and called on Israelis and Palestinians to stay on the peace track.
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"The European Union urges all parties to refrain from any action which might lead to the resumption of the cycle of violence,” the 15- nation bloc said in a statement issued by its Italian presidency.
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"Both sides must remain committed to the path of negotiations, which must not be hindered by radical organisations opposing peace.”
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The European Union said it was "deeply concerned” at the upsurge in violence, adding that the suicide attacks contravened the ceasefire "and undermine the interests of the majority of Palestinians, who support an end to violence.”
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The EU however stressed that there is no alternative to the implementation of the “roadmap.”
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"The European Union reaffirms once again that there is no alternative to a swift and full implementation, in good faith by the two sides, of the road map,” the statement said in reference to the internationally-backed peace plan.
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Dahlan Meets with US Chief Peace Monitor
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The issue of the “roadmap” was the central issue at a meeting Thursday in the West Bank town of Jericho between Dahlan and Washington’s chief peace monitor John Wolf.
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Wolf, who is charged with overseeing implementation of the US- backed “roadmap,” arrived in Jericho accompanied by two senior US officers for the two-hour meeting, which was arranged at the request of the Americans.
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Dahlan made it clear the Palestinians were not satisfied with Israel’s moves to advance the “roadmap,” dismissing Israel’s release Friday of over 70 Palestinian prisoners as little more than "a PR exercise” and demanding the Jewish state take more action on the ground.
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He also pointed the finger at Israel for damaging the shaky seven- week truce and said that, if it collapsed, the responsibility would be on Israel´s shoulders, a source said.
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The two also discussed a Palestinian request that Israel hand over security responsibility for four West Bank cities to the Palestinian security forces, he said.
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Earlier Wolf met Mofaz in Tel Aviv Thursday to discuss peace efforts, which have become bogged down in a new round of violence over the past week.
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Washington is pressing both sides to show restraint and make progress on the “roadmap” aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old conflict that has cost 3,400 lives and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005.
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Mofaz told Wolf the Palestinians were not taking any actions against the “terrorists.” Mofaz defended the IOF’s military incursion into Hebron on Thursday, in which Islamic Jihad commander Mohammed Sider was assassinated.
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"The actions against terror are continuing and our aim is to make every effort for this process to go on despite the fact that the Palestinian side is not doing what is required of them to dismantle the terrorist network,” Mofaz said after the meeting with Wolf.
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Wolf, President George W. Bush’s special envoy, visited Qalqiliya Wednesday and pressed the Palestinians to accept the Israeli offer, Palestinian officials said.
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Maarouf Zahran, Qalqiliya’s mayor, said he told Wolf that as long as IOF troops retained control of the military roadblock at the only remaining access to the town, any withdrawal would only undermine the credibility of the PNA.
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"It is meaningless to the people,” he said in a telephone interview. "They will see us as jailers.”
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He said that the barrier had cut Qalqiliya’s farmers off from 45 percent of their land. He said Wolf told him he would urge the Israelis to put more gates in the barrier for farmers.
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Sha’ath Blasts Israeli Good Faith
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Meanwhile PNA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath blasted Israeli good faith in implementing the “roadmap.”
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not intend to implement the “roadmap” for Middle East peace, Shaath said in remarks published on Friday.
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Shaath told Kuwait’s Rai al-Aam daily newspaper in an interview in the Lebanese capital Beirut that ´´90 percent of us see that Ariel Sharon does not want to implement the road map and believe that if it fails then Sharon will be behind that failure.”
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´´All the Israeli actions point in this direction and our information is that the map was imposed on Israel which was rejecting it all the time,” he added.
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Shaath told the Kuwait daily that the “roadmap” was ´´100 times better” than the 1993 Oslo peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians or the 1991 Madrid conference which kicked off the sputtering Arab-Israeli peace process.
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The “roadmap” calls for reciprocal moves toward a Palestinian state by 2005 in the West Bank and Gaza.
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Sharon said in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica published on Friday he wanted to move ahead with the peace plan, but needed more movement from the Palestinians.
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´´If the Palestinian Authority does not take care of the terrorists we will have to continue to do it ourselves. But I have only one political wish: to move forward with the road map,” he said. (PMC © 08/16/03)
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