Israel Says West Bank Troop Pullback Possible Soon (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Corinne Heller in Jerusalem, Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah 01/30/05 03:41 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli troops could pull back from several
West Bank cities within days, pending the outcome of further talks
with the new Palestinian leadership, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
In another sign of a possible revival of peacemaking after more than
four years of violence, officials from both sides said Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would
meet around Feb. 8.
"I think there is an opportunity to create a new reality," Mofaz told
Israel Radio after holding talks late Saturday with Palestinian
official Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, on confidence-
"One of the issues we discussed is the transfer of (West Bank)
cities," Mofaz said. "It is very possible responsibility will be
transferred (to Palestinian security forces) in some of the cities in
the next few days. We are supposed to meet again to finalize the
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said such a pullback would
be "a step in the right direction."
The Israeli army has a network of checkpoints surrounding West Bank
cities and has mounted frequent raids against militants since the
start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
But violence has dropped sharply since Abbas, who is trying to coax
gunmen into a cease-fire they say must be reciprocated by Israel,
deployed Palestinian security forces across the Gaza Strip earlier
this month to prevent attacks on Israelis.
Israel, which plans to remove all 21 Jewish settlements and four of
120 in the West Bank this summer, announced Friday it was sharply
reducing its military operations in the Palestinian territories in
response to Abbas´s moves.
"Over the past few days, they proved that they carried out what they
pledged," Mofaz said. "It´s still not a cessation of terror ... but
they have shown a readiness to continue to assume responsibility and
press ahead with security cooperation."
Mofaz said he and Dahlan discussed the issue of a prisoner release in
general terms "but nothing has been decided on the scope or timing."
SHARON-ABBAS MEETING TO COINCIDE WITH RICE VISIT
The planned Sharon-Abbas summit would coincide with a scheduled visit
to the region by new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She has
pledged intensive personal efforts to pursue Israeli-Palestinian
peace after Yasser Arafat´s death.
Erekat told Israeli Army Radio that officials from both sides would
meet "within three to four days" to finalize arrangements for the
summit, which he said he hoped would be followed by a series of top-
"Returning the situation to that which existed prior to September
2000 is the issue now," he said in comments to Reuters, calling on
Israel "to remove roadblocks, checkpoints and blockades from our
towns and refugee camps."
Abbas, backed by the United States as a moderate and reformist, was
elected to succeed Arafat as president on Jan. 9.
Abbas and Sharon last met in 2003, signing a U.S.-backed peace "road
map" charting mutual steps toward the creation of a Palestinian state
alongside a secure Israel. Abbas served as Arafat´s prime minister at
the time. (Additional reporting by Corinne Heller in Jerusalem,
Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005 01/30/05)
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