Israel to Conduct West Bank Hand Over (AP) By PETER ENAV TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 01/30/05 3:17 AM)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
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TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel will transfer security control over several
West Bank towns to the Palestinians in coming days, Israel´s defense
minister said Sunday, hours after he met with a top Palestinian
security official to work out the details of Israel´s troop
Israel has informed Palestinian officials that it is ready to
withdraw gradually from all West Bank towns and to return to
positions it held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000,
said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.
Such a pullback is part of the long-stalled "road map" peace plan,
which both sides now say they are ready to implement.
Erekat also said Feb. 8 is emerging as a target date for a summit
between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, a crucial stop toward ending hostilities and resuming
peace talks. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice is to arrive in the
region two days earlier for talks with Israeli and Palestinian
The renewed peace hopes came after a sharp drop in violence. Abbas
has obtained a promise from armed groups to halt attacks on Israel,
and has deployed Palestinian police across the Gaza Strip. In
response, Israel´s army chief said he would halt military operations
in Gaza and scale them back in the West Bank.
Late Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met for nearly
five hours with Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian security chief, at a
Tel Aviv hotel to work out the details of a West Bank redeployment.
"We talked about handing over responsibility, as has started in the
Gaza Strip. We believe that in the next few days they will get
responsibility over other towns in the West Bank," Mofaz told Israel
Mofaz also said the Israeli military has changed its rules of
engagement. "Wherever the Palestinians operate, and operate
effectively, there will be no need for our counter-terrorist
activity," he said.
It remains unclear to what extent Israel will remove the network of
checkpoints it established after the outbreak of fighting to keep out
Palestinian militants. The checkpoints have restricted movement and
stifled daily life in the West Bank, with travelers often waiting in
long lines to enter or leave towns.
Both sides said Mofaz and Dahlan held their talks in a good
atmosphere. Dahlan left without speaking to reporters.
Palestinian officials said they believe restrictions would first be
eased in the towns of Jericho and either Ramallah or Bethlehem.
Security commanders are to meet Monday to work out the details.
In preparing for a summit, Sharon and Abbas aides are to meet by
midweek to work out an agenda, Erekat said. The summit would be the
highest-level contacts between Israel and the Palestinians since June
2003 when Sharon and Abbas - then prime minister - launched the road
Palestinian officials said they expect a wide-ranging agenda that
will include the declaration of a formal truce, a large-scale release
of Palestinian prisoners and the resumption of peace negotiations.
Israel however appears reluctant to move from security concerns into
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Saturday that Abbas
is "very close" to a political agreement with the militants that
would include a cease-fire, but added that a formal halt to violence
would depend on Israel.
He said Israel must formally accept a cease-fire, withdraw troops
from West Bank cities and release some of the 7,000 prisoners it is
holding to move forward with the accord.
"There is a temporary cease-fire and we are waiting for an Israeli
response," Shaath told The Associated Press by phone from Syria,
where he met government officials and the leader of Hamas. "If Israel
reciprocated, the cease-fire will turn from a temporary into a
Shaath said Egypt, a key mediator, has invited representatives of
militant groups to Cairo next week to continue the efforts.
Mofaz said Sunday that Israel was ready to free some Palestinian
prisoners, but for now would not ease the criteria for release. This
would mean those involved in attacks on Israelis are not eligible.
However, Mofaz held out the possibility that the criteria could be
changed in the future. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/30/05)
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