Israeli Leaders Approve West Bank Pullback (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/03/05 07:32 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli leaders approved on Thursday a troop
pullback from West Bank cities and a plan to release Palestinian
prisoners, measures crucial to the success of an Israeli summit with
the Palestinians in Egypt next week.
Israel and the Palestinians said they hoped to declare a formal halt
to violence at the talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
next Tuesday that will mark a dramatic return to peacemaking after
more than four years of bloodshed.
As part of a confidence-building package to be presented at the
summit, Israel will carry out a phased military pullback from
positions around five Palestinian cities and free hundreds of
prisoners, said a cabinet minister who declined to be named.
Troops will move away from the West Bank city of Jericho first and
then withdraw from areas around Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Qalqilya and
Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top cabinet ministers approved the
steps at a meeting in Tel Aviv that was to be followed by talks later
in the day between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Palestinians have sought a wider prisoner release, an issue key to
attempts by new President Mahmoud Abbas to consolidate power
following the death of Yasser Arafat. The cabinet minister said
Palestinians jailed for deadly attacks would not go free.
In addition, a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will be formed to
finalize a roster of Palestinian militants who will be struck off
Israel´s most-wanted list in return for a halt of attacks against
Israel will also open all of the Gaza Strip border crossings it
closed in response to strikes by militants.
BUSH PLEDGES AID TO PALESTINIANS
The new summit was called before President Bush pledged $350 million
in aid to the Palestinians to bolster security and economic
development and said the goal of Palestinian statehood "is within
"I hope there will be an official declaration of an armistice, on the
cessation of all acts of violence," Vice Premier Shimon Peres said on
Abbas, commenting on a formal announcement, told reporters: "We hope
to God this will happen."
The talks, hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and attended by
Sharon, Abbas and Jordan´s King Abdullah, would aim to solidify a
shaky de facto cease-fire by reviving a U.S.-backed peace "road map."
Sharon and Abbas last met in June 2003 at a summit in Jordan that
approved the plan, since stalled by violence, charting mutual steps
toward creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Abbas was
Arafat´s prime minister at the time.
Bush´s State of the Union aid pledge -- bigger than expected -- was
meant to demonstrate U.S. support for Abbas, elected last month to
replace the late Arafat, whom the U.S. leader shunned as an obstacle
"The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian
territories are showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of
violence and failure," Bush said in the speech.
New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to meet Sharon and
Abbas separately in the region next week.
In exchange for Israeli confidence-boosting moves, Israel expects
both Egypt and Jordan to restore ambassadors to Tel Aviv who had been
recalled when the Palestinian uprising flared.
While Israel has curtailed military action in response to a sharp
drop in attacks by gunmen over the past two weeks, it has urged Abbas
to detain militants and dismantle "terrorist capabilities and
infrastructure" as the road map states.
Abbas, citing a concern not to stir civil unrest, has said he wants
to co-opt rather than crush militants, and Palestinian officials have
demanded greater Israeli compliance with road map obligations
including a halt to West Bank settlement expansion.
Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, said Israel had adjusted
its position on a truce but not enough to satisfy the militant group.
(© Reuters 2005 02/03/05)
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