Israel to Slow Planned West Bank Pullout (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 8:42 PM)
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JERUSALEM - Israeli and Palestinian leaders argued on Tuesday over a
planned troop pullback from the West Bank, with a wary Israel saying
it wants to hand over one town at a time and Palestinians insisting
on a large-scale withdrawal.
Israel decided to slow the planned pullout from five West Bank towns
after a day of violence Monday strained an informal cease-fire.
Israeli security officials threatened to stop the process altogether
if Palestinians don´t halt all attacks on Israeli targets.
Despite the warning, Palestinian militants fired three mortar shells
at a Jewish settlement in Gaza on Tuesday. The shells caused no
damage or injuries.
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.
The meeting was overshadowed by the death of a 10-year-old
Palestinian girl in a Gaza refugee camp, followed by a barrage of
mortar attacks on nearby Jewish settlements. A day later it was still
unclear who fired the fatal bullet, with each side blaming the other.
On Tuesday, Israeli media reported that Palestinian security had
arrested a man from the Rafah refugee camp for firing the fatal shot.
In telephone calls with The Associated Press, officials from all the
security services in Gaza denied the reports.
After the mortar attacks, Mofaz told Dahlan progress in the West Bank
depends on quiet in Gaza.
He said Israel would withdraw from one West Bank city at a time
rather than all five at once, Israeli security officials said. The
pullout is to begin with Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian
government, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
The handover 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
officials added. Sharon is to meet with senior government ministers
Thursday to discuss the handover.
On Tuesday, Mofaz called on the Palestinian Authority to stop the
mortar fire. Thousands of Palestinian police have taken up positions
throughout Gaza in recent days to restrain militants.
"So far we have not seen active operations by the Palestinian
forces," Mofaz said. "We expect such activity to be undertaken. ...
If the current reality continues, or heaven forbid, gets worse, it
will be very hard for us to make progress with the dialogue."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian police "will
exert every possible effort to stop such firing."
Israeli security officials said Mofaz proposed a joint committee that
would deal with the issue of Palestinian fugitives. He said in areas
under Palestinian control, Israel would not pursue them as long as
they turn in their weapons, stay in the town and do not plan new
Palestinians objected to the new Israeli position on the West Bank
handover, with one senior Palestinian official saying they sought a
withdrawal from all five cities at once. He spoke on condition of
Dahlan said Tuesday he hoped to reach an agreement with Israel on the
pullback and other key issues before next week´s summit.
"We hope to reach a deal to open the cities and the roadblocks in
order to make connections between the Palestinian residential areas,"
In a step toward that goal, Israel reopened the Rafah crossing
between Gaza and Egypt on Tuesday. It was shut Dec. 12 after
Palestinian militants tunneled under the Israeli army post there and
blew it up, killing five soldiers.
Mofaz said the Karni crossing - where militants killed six Israeli
civilians last month - would remain closed until the Palestinians
improve security measures. The Erez crossing in northern Gaza also
will remain closed.
The flare-up in Gaza fighting has tested an informal cease-fire
worked out by Abbas that brought rare calm to an area torn by four
years of bloodshed.
Also Tuesday, Israel´s attorney general overturned a secret
government decision to seize Jerusalem land belonging to Palestinians
living in the West Bank, ruling it violates Israeli and international
The decision blocked what attorneys for the landowners said was an
attempt by Israel to confiscate thousands of acres of Jerusalem land
and cement Israeli control over the eastern sector of the city, whose
fate is one of the most difficult issues in any future peace talks.
In another development, 38 Jewish families in Gaza signed agreements
with the government to move within Israeli borders, Sharon´s office
The deal affects a small percentage of the 8,500 Jewish settlers in
Gaza, but represents a chink in what settler leaders said would be
mass resistance to an Israeli withdrawal.
An Israeli official said the government will help the settlers
relocate to areas within Israel, but will not sanction the move of
entire communities to settlements in the West Bank. (Copyright 2005
Associated Press. 02/01/05)
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