Israel to Slow Planned West Bank Pullout (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 7:25 AM)
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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 it will stop the process altogether if Palestinians don´t
halt all attacks, Israeli security officials said Tuesday.
Despite the warning, Palestinian militants fired three mortar shells
at a Jewish settlement in Gaza on Tuesday, following a barrage
Monday. The shells caused no damage or injuries.
Also Tuesday, Israel´s attorney general ruled that a secret decision
by Cabinet ministers to seize Jerusalem land of Palestinians living
in the West Bank violates domestic and international law.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met late Monday with Palestinian
negotiator Mohammed Dahlan to discuss a handover of West Bank towns
to Palestinian security control. Mofaz told 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, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The pullout might begin in coming days, but not necessarily before
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud
Abbas hold their first meeting, tentatively set for Feb. 8, the
Palestinians objected to the new Israeli position on the West Bank
"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,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Mofaz-Dahlan meeting was overshadowed by the death of a 10-year-
old Palestinian girl in a Gaza refugee camp Monday, followed by a
barrage of mortar shells fired on Jewish settlements. 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
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. Israeli security officials blamed Palestinians
firing in the air to celebrate their return from the Hajj pilgrimage
to Mecca, but residents denied that.
Hamas threatened further retaliation "if the crimes continue." The
military took that to mean the militant group was trying to set a
pattern of retaliation for perceived Israeli acts of violence, within
the framework of a cease-fire, security officials said. Mofaz told
Dahlan that such an understanding was unacceptable.
Mofaz said the Palestinian Authority must stop the mortar fire,
regardless of the explanation, and Palestinian police, who have
deployed throughout Gaza in recent days for the first time in years,
must restrain militants. 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.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian police "will
exert every possible effort to stop such firing."
Dahlan asked Israel to reopen Gaza border crossings closed after
recent Palestinian attacks.
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, officials said. The
Erez crossing in northern Gaza also will remain closed, they said.
Erekat said he would meet Thursday with Sharon´s chief of staff, Dov
Weisglass, for a final session ahead of the Sharon-Abbas meeting. The
Palestinians will demand an end to violence, a return to positions
the Israeli army held before the Palestinian uprising broke out in
2000, amnesty for Palestinian fugitives, and the release of
Palestinian prisoners, Erekat said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there can be
no peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinians gain a viable,
contiguous state. Rice, due in Israel and the West Bank for talks
Feb. 7, also urged 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."
Sharon has volunteered to give up Gaza and four small Jewish
settlements in the West Bank, but he has not indicated how much more
land he would turn over to a Palestinian state.
A senior Israeli military official told a parliamentary committee the
pullout would cost the military about $430 million.
On Tuesday, lawmakers discussed a bill to compensate Israelis for
evacuating settlements, and 38 Jewish families in Gaza - the largest
single bloc of settlers to have done so - signed agreements with the
government to move within Israeli borders.
The deal affects a small percentage of the 8,500 Jewish settlers in
Gaza, but represents another chink in what settler leaders said would
be mass resistance to an Israeli withdrawal.
The land ruling by Attorney General Meni Mazuz, announced by Justice
Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti, is likely to end the policy, under
which hundreds of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated in
Israeli Cabinet ministers secretly decided last summer to enforce the
long-dormant Absentee Property Law of 1950, which allowed Israel to
seize the property of Palestinians who had fled or were driven from
their homes in the 1948-49 Mideast war.
Hundreds of acres of land have been taken in recent months from
Palestinians who were cut off from their Jerusalem property by the
separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. Hundreds more
property owners are at risk, two attorneys for Palestinian land
owners have said. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/01/05)
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