Israel to quit West Bank cities, free Palestinian prisoners (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aluf Benn, Arnon Regular and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies 02/03/05 16:24 (GMT+2)
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A special ministerial team approved on Thursday afternoon a draft of
security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority that Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon will present on Tuesday´s summit with
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan in the Egyptian resort town
of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The ministers decided to release 900 Palestinian prisoners, 500
immediately and another 400 in three months.
A cabinet minister said no Palestinians with "blood on their hands,"
a reference to attacks that caused Israeli casualties, would be freed
under the decision.
It was also decided to gradually transfer to the PA security
responsibility for five West Bank cities, starting with Jericho.
Bethlehem, Qalqilyah, Tul Karm and Ramallah will follow, but the
order of their transfer to the PA has not yet been determined.
According to the ministerial draft, Israel Defense Forces operations
in the territories will be halted and "preventative actions" will
require the personal authorizations of the IDF chief of staff,
Director of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter and Defense
Minister Shaul Mofaz.
The ministers also authorized the opening of the Gaza Strip seaport.
Sharon emphasized that the draft was not an implementation of the
road map peace plan but rather an initial move aimed at smoothing the
way for future implementation of the road map.
The Israeli decision said the draft makes clear to the Palestinians
that all advancement requires an absolute halt to acts of terrorism
and violence against Israel.
Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials were to meet again later
Sides tout mutual truce
Also Thursday, senior Israeli and Palestinian cabinet ministers said
that the two sides could crown the summit by declaring a mutual cease-
Palestinian cabinet minister and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat, asked
Thursday if Israelis could expect to hear Abbas announce at the
summit that the intifada was over, told Army Radio:
"You can hear the Palestinian leader saying from Sharm el-Sheikh that
the Palestinian side is committed to stop all kinds of violence
against Israelis anywhere - period."
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Thursday that he hoped "there will be
an official declaration of an armistice, on the cessation of all acts
Peres and other top cabinet members were convening Thursday morning
with Sharon to discuss measures, including a West Bank troop pullback
and release of Palestinian prisoners, that could be crucial to the
summit´s success. They were expected to approve the details of
Israeli understandings reached between Mofaz and former PA security
minister Mohammed Dahlan.
Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu are also participating in the meeting.
Erekat said the summit would be a success "if we can announce in
Sharm el-Sheikh a mutual cessation of violence against the other."
In addition, Erekat said, the summit would succeed if the parties
resumed security cooperation on the level that existed prior to the
onset of the intifada in 2000, and if Israel released a "significant
and genuine" number of Palestinian prisoners.
"Also, something must be done about the settlement activities, and
the [West Bank] wall, and the [PLO and other Palestinian] offices in
East Jerusalem which were closed by the Israelis."
Erekat called the participation of Egypt and Jordan "an insurance
policy. Nobody can afford failure now."
Mofaz, Dahlan hammer out understandings
Dahlan said during talks with Mofaz that while the summit would focus
on the completion of a cease-fire agreement backed by international
supervision, the meeting would fail unless agreements were reached in
advance on Palestinian demands regarding prisoners, checkpoints and
the West Bank cities.
"We hope the summit will deal with setting rules for the renewal of
the peace process on a firm diplomatic basis, and not only with the
security elements of the parties´ relationship," he added.
But there were signs of reservation in some official quarters in
A stormy discussion held in Mofaz´ office on Wednesday yielded a
decision against releasing Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their
hands," generally a reference to men jailed for terror killings or as
accomplices to deadly acts.
The PA has asked Israel to begin by freeing 1,000 of the 8,000
Palestinians now in Israeli prisons, including some which Israel has
said have "blood on their hands."
Peres said Thursday that the decision to release prisoners, including
those with blood on their hands, would be made on a case-by-case
The Israeli discussions center on four issues: transfer of security
control over West Bank cities, release of Palestinian prisoners,
Israeli operations against wanted militants, and concessions toward
the Palestinian civilian population.
Israel will not pardon wanted men, but is willing to "freeze"
operations against militants who give up their weapons to the PA and
forswear violence. The freeze is an apparent reference to arrests and
assassinations. A joint Israeli-PA commission is to make decisions
over the wanted men.
Concessions are to include opening crossing points into the Gaza
Strip, removing some checkpoints, and lifting restrictions on fishing
off the Gaza coast. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/03/05)
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