Palestinians Prep for West Bank Transfer (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 01/30/05 2:14 PM)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian police commanders began
preparations Sunday to take control of four West Bank towns by
midweek, after top Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed on a
security plan for the West Bank.
Transfer of the towns´ control would be the first large-scale Israeli
move on the ground to acknowledge that violence has decreased
significantly since Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas to replace the
late Yasser Arafat as their leader Jan. 9.
If the calm holds, Israel promises to move all its troops back to
positions they held before the latest Palestinian uprising began in
September 2000, turning the populated areas of the West Bank back to
Palestinian control and making a major step toward resuming peace
In another significant move, an Israeli official said amnesty would
be granted for fugitive Palestinians in the West Bank, ending
Israel´s relentless search for dozens of extremists suspected in
attacks on Israelis. In more than four years of conflict, dozens of
militants have been killed in Israeli raids and many more have been
The amnesty would allow Abbas to fulfill a key campaign pledge that
fugitives would be allowed to reintegrate into Palestinian society
with no fear of Israeli reprisal.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 Jewish settlers and their backers
demonstrated Sunday night in Jerusalem against Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon´s plan to evacuate all 21 Gaza settlements and four West Bank
outposts this summer.
The protesters demanded a referendum on the plan, but Sharon has
rejected that as a delaying tactic, and he appears to have the
political muscle to push the plan through. In all, 8,500 settlers
stand to be displaced.
Palestinian officials say Abbas and Sharon have agreed to meet for
the first time since 2003, when Abbas was prime minister. It would be
the first meeting between an Israeli premier and a Palestinian leader
since 2000, when Arafat sat down with then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Feb. 8 was emerging as the date for the summit, which would be two
days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to arrive
in the region.
Both sides appear eager to put four years of violence behind them,
but the bloodshed has frayed trust. Each side has qualified its
declarations about bringing peace by saying that progress depends on
the actions of the other side, and it is clear the atmosphere could
sour quickly if there is a serious Palestinian attack or Israeli
Israel´s Channel Two TV showed video Sunday of an advanced radar
tracking system being installed next to Gaza to monitor incoming
rockets heading for Sderot, a much-battered Israeli town. The radar
is part of a joint Israeli-U.S. system intended to destroy small
rockets with laser beams.
Late Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Mohammed
Dahlan, a senior Abbas aide, that the transfer of authority in West
Bank towns would begin in the coming days.
A senior Palestinian security official said control of the first four
towns - Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and Jericho - would be handed
Israeli soldiers retook Palestinian population centers in 2002 after
a wave of grisly suicide bombings inside Israel. Since then, Israel
has pulled troops out of the towns several times, but it left a tight
cordon of checkpoints around them and eventually went back in after
This time, security officials said Israel will dismantle roadblocks
around the towns as well, allowing for more freedom of movement in
the West Bank than the Palestinians have had since the violence
erupted. Details of the new arrangements will be discussed by Mofaz
and Dahlan on Tuesday or Wednesday, the officials said on condition
At their Saturday night meeting, the two also discussed the return of
39 Palestinian militants who were deported from the West Bank in 2002
after a monthlong siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Most of the deportees will be allowed to return, said a Palestinian
official involved in the negotiations, but the Israeli officials
could not confirm that.
Israeli and Palestinian security commanders were to meet again Monday
in what is becoming routine coordination after months of overt
Peace hopes have risen as violence has dropped.
Abbas obtained a promise from armed Palestinian 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.
On Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia met with leaders
of militant groups in Gaza. Participants affirmed their agreement to
suspend attacks on Israel.
Also Sunday, a 65-year-old Palestinian civilian was killed by Israeli
army fire along the Gaza-Egypt border, Palestinian officials said.
The military said the man was shot while deep inside a no-go zone,
close to an Israeli army post along a patrol road near the border.
(Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/30/05)
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