Israel, Palestinians Agree to Form Panel (AP) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/02/05 4:26 AM)
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JERUSALEM - Israel and the Palestinians plan to set up a panel to
take some Palestinian fugitives off Israel´s hit list, a senior
Israeli Defense Ministry official said Wednesday, signaling progress
toward easing a major source of contention between the two sides.
Israel has vigorously pursued fugitives during four years of
fighting, killing or arresting hundreds, and is chasing several
hundred more, the Palestinian Authority estimates. Fugitives are one
of the most sensitive issues in truce talks between Israel and the
Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry official, told Israel´s Army Radio
that the two sides plan to set up a joint committee to decide which
Palestinian fugitives will no longer be hunted by Israeli security
forces. Cabinet ministers are set to approve formation of the panel
later this week, Gilad said.
Israel won´t go after Palestinian fugitives who hand in their weapons
and sign a written agreement pledging not to carry out attacks
against Israeli targets, Gilad said. Any fugitive who violates the
pledge will again become a target, he added.
The committee is to include members of the Israeli military and
security service, and Palestinian officials.
The Palestinians seek blanket amnesty for all fugitives. Palestinian
leader Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly he would not confront the
militants, preferring to co-opt them. One idea for dealing with the
fugitives is to fold them into Palestinian security forces.
Gilad brushed off criticism that ending the hunt for fugitives would
be tantamount to pardoning Palestinians responsible for killing
"We have to include all the fugitives who stop being active. ... We
are not talking about pardoning," Gilad said. "If they return to
terror and if the attacks and the murders continue, then in the end
we will return to a different type of vigorous activity," he said.
Referring to the relative quiet that has prevailed in the area in
recent weeks, Gilad added, "There is an opportunity here that must be
exploited. All quiet is built on understandings."
In other efforts to build on political gains achieved in recent
weeks, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met with Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday.
Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin wouldn´t disclose details of
Suleiman´s agenda. But the Egyptian intelligence chief is a key
mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and has worked to
assist with security arrangements ahead of Israel´s planned
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, set to begin this summer.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in the region next
week to try to prod the two sides ahead on the internationally
approved "road map" peace plan. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil
Shaath said Rice told him a telephone call Tuesday that she is
encouraged by progress in the region.
"She thinks that there is an opportunity that should be seized, and
she will work with both of us in order that this opportunity will be
seized," Sha´ath said.
Jewish settlements, Israel´s separation barrier and the final status
of Jerusalem will be on the table during the Palestinians´ Feb. 7
meeting with her, he said. So, too, will be Israel´s planned handover
of West Bank towns to the Palestinians, a cease-fire between the two
sides, the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and
As Israel moves toward dismantling some settlements, Jewish settlers
are continuing to build in four illegal West Bank outposts slated for
evacuation, said Lt. Talia Somech, a spokeswoman for Israel´s
military administration in the West Bank., confirming a report in the
Haaretz daily. Dismantling of the outposts has been delayed as the
military awaits orders from the government, the newspaper said.
Under terms of the road map, Israel must remove dozens of
unauthorized outposts that began springing up in 1993 to protest the
Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty signed that year. So far only a few
have been removed in operations that have often touched off clashes
between settlers and security forces. (Copyright 2005 Associated
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