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Israel Says West Bank Troop Pullback Possible Soon (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza 01/30/05 08:13 AM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7474831 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is likely to pull back its troops from several West Bank cities within days, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Sunday, in a further sign of cooperation with a new Palestinian leadership.

"I think there is an opportunity to create a new reality," Mofaz told Israel Radio after talks late on Saturday with Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, on confidence-building steps.

"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 finalise the issues."

Sources close to the Palestinian delegation said agreement was reached on the handover this week of five cities in the West Bank, where militants wanted by Israel would be kept in check by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie called the Mofaz-Dahlan meeting "very successful" and said its results would be evident soon.

The Israeli army has 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 significantly since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deployed security forces across the Gaza Strip earlier this month to prevent attacks on Israelis before a planned Israeli pullout from the occupied territory this summer.

Abbas, backed by the United States as a moderate and reformist, was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat as president on Jan. 9 and has been trying to coax gunmen into a ceasefire they say must be reciprocated by Israel.

Israel said on Friday it was sharply reducing proactive military operations in the Palestinian territories as a response to Abbas´s efforts.

Violence flared, however, in the southern Gaza Strip, where Israeli troops killed an unarmed Palestinian near the Egyptian border, medics said. The army said he came within 15 metres of a post in an area off- limits to Palestinians and soldiers shot him.

ABBAS AND SHARON TO MEET

Officials said Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would meet around Feb. 8 to explore ways to revive a peace "road map" charting mutual steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

The talks would coincide with a visit to the region by new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She has pledged intensive personal involvement to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace after Arafat´s death.

"Returning the situation to that which existed prior to September 2000 is the issue now," Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said, calling on Israel "to remove roadblocks, checkpoints and blockades from our towns and refugee camps".

Mofaz said he and Dahlan also discussed the issue of an Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners, a move that could boost popular support for Abbas, "but nothing has been decided on the scope or timing".

Abbas and Sharon last met in 2003, signing the "road map". Abbas served as Arafat´s prime minister at the time. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza) (© Reuters 2005 01/30/05)


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