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 11:41 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is likely to pull back its troops from
several West Bank cities within days, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
said Sunday, in a further sign of cooperation with a new Palestinian
"I think there is an opportunity to create a new reality," Mofaz told
Israel Radio after talks late Saturday with Palestinian official
Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, on confidence-building
"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 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 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 cease-fire they say must be reciprocated
Israel said Friday it would reduce military operations in the
Palestinian territories as a response to Abbas´s efforts.
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 toward the creation of a Palestinian state
alongside a secure Israel.
The talks will coincide with a visit to the region by new Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice. She has pledged intensive personal
involvement to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace after Arafat´s death.
"The conditions are now emerging for ... movement back on to the road
map and for movement toward a two-state solution," she told Fox
News. "I intend to do everything I can to help push that process
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 meters (yards) of a post in an
area off-limits to Palestinians and soldiers shot him.
"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
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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