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Israel to Slow Planned West Bank Pullout (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 3:04 AM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53173-2005Feb1.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM - Israel is going to slow its planned pullout from five West Bank towns after a day of violence strained an informal cease- fire, and will stop the process altogether if Palestinians don´t halt all attacks on Israeli targets, Israeli security officials said Tuesday.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Dahlan that Israel would withdraw from one city at a time rather than from all five at once, apparently beginning with Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, the officials said.

The pullout might begin within the next few days, but not necessarily before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, hold their first meeting, they said. That meeting, as yet unscheduled, is expected to take place around Feb. 8.

Palestinians objected to the new Israeli position.

"We will not tell them to stop if they are withdrawing from Ramallah, but we want them to implement the previous understandings, the withdrawal from five cities," a senior Palestinian official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mofaz and Dahlan met late Monday to discuss restoring calm after a 10- year-old Palestinian girl was killed by gunfire and militants retaliated with a barrage of mortar shells on nearby Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The violence broke an informal cease- fire worked out by Abbas that had brought rare calm to an area torn by four years of bloodshed.

Norhan Deeb was standing in her schoolyard in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border Monday when she was hit in the head by a bullet. She died a few minutes later in a hospital, doctors said.

Palestinian witnesses said the gunfire came from Israeli forces on the border, but the Israeli military said soldiers did not open fire in that part of Rafah, though there were two gunfire incidents elsewhere.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed Palestinians firing in the air to celebrate their return from the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, but residents denied that.

Retaliation for the girl´s death was swift. Palestinian militants fired nine mortar shells at nearby Jewish settlements in northern Gaza, damaging a building. No one was hurt.

A statement issued by Hamas threatened further retaliation "if the crimes continue." The military took that to mean that the militant group was trying to set a pattern of retaliation for perceived Israeli acts of violence, within the framework of a cease-fire.

Mofaz told Dahlan that such an understanding was unacceptable, according to Israeli security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mofaz said the Palestinian Authority must stop the mortar fire, regardless of the explanation, and Palestinian police, which have deployed throughout Gaza in recent days for the first time in years, must stop attacks. He said their performance in Gaza would influence the extent to which Israel would hand over responsibility in the West Bank, according to the officials.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, a top aide to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, said the Dahlan-Mofaz meeting did not produce progress.

"It was shaped by the latest development, the killing of the Palestinian student and the launching of several rockets. ... I cannot say that the talks collapsed, but we witnessed a freezing last night because of the latest developments. However, we are continuing, and we are going to meet in the coming few days," he said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that there cannot be peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinians gain a viable, contiguous state that "satisfies their aspirations."

Rice, who is due in Israel and the West Bank for talks next Monday, also called on Arab states to stop incitement to violence, but her emphasis was on Israel having to yield territory and "creating conditions in which a new Palestinian state could emerge."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has volunteered to give up Gaza and a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank, but otherwise he has not indicated how much additional land he would turn over to a Palestinian state.

In his meeting with Mofaz, Dahlan asked Israel to reopen border crossings closed after recent Palestinian attacks, the officials said.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was reopened Tuesday, having been shut Dec. 12 after Palestinian militants tunneled under the Israeli army post there and blew it up, killing five soldiers.

Mofaz said the Karni cargo crossing would remain closed until the Palestinians improve security measures there. The Erez crossing in northern Gaza also will remain closed. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/01/05)

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