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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)Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/535480.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 Thursday.

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- fire.

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 of violence."

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 Israel.

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 basis.

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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