- Title: WEST BANK/JERUSALEM: ISRAEL TO PULL OUT OF FOUR MORE PALESTINIAN TOWNS.
- Date: 17th August 2003
- Summary: (W5) JERUSALEM (AUGUST 17, 2003) (REUTERS) GV: ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER SHAUL MOFAZ ON WAY INTO CABINET MEETING GV/PAN: ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON
- Embargoed: 1st September 2003 13:00
- Location: RAMALLAH, QALQILYA, AND JERICHO, WEST BANK, JERUSALEM
- Country: Israel
- Topics: Conflict,General,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABE7GSCD24VX2X6XHZU5LO13W9
- Story Text: Israel to pull out of four more Palestinian towns Israel's cabinet met on Sunday (August 17, 2003) to discuss a deal whereby it would withdraw forces from four Palestinian-administered West Bank cities reoccupied or blockaded in 2002 after many suicide attacks and put them in the hands of Palestinian police forces.
Under the pact reached by Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan on Friday (August 16), Qalqilya and Jericho were slated for handover this week, and Ramallah and Tulkarm in about two weeks.
But the deal came amid renewed Israeli calls for the Palestinian authorities to dismantle what they call the "structures of terror" militant groups which have carried out dozens of suicide bombings during the course of the three-year-old uprising.
"On the issue of handing over the cities, we will do it gradually, in a sober manner. Very carefully and with conditions: dealing with the wanted (Palestinians) and actions against the infrastructure of terror and on condition that there will be no attacks," Mofaz told reporters after meeting U.S. senator John McCain.
Shortly after the Israeli cabinet convened its meeting, members of the Palestinian cabinet gathered for their debate in the West Bank town of Ramallah to discuss the Palestinian stance on the withdrawal. The U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan promises statehood for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005.
Israel, seconded by Washington, has called repeatedly on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to disarm and dismantle militant groups as mandated by the road map, and ruled out significant pullbacks from occupied land until then.
But Palestinian officials told Reuters Israel relented on that demand as part of Friday's deal by signalling Israel would now settle for militants being "contained" and encouraged to reintegrate in society as long as they ceased attacks.
Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the matter.
Palestinian officials have said a crackdown on militants could spark civil war and urged Israel to honour its commitments under the peace plan like withdrawals to pre-uprising positions.
"I think that Mr Mofaz must do his job: the withdrawal from the cities according to the Road Map. The implementation of the Road Map. When he put another conditions, I think he will put new obstacles we didn't need in these circumstances. I think he will start arrangements with our officers on the ground in order to arrange the withdrawal and the lifting of the checkpoints, " Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said.
Meanwhile, tension on the streets of Jerusalem remains high. Police were called out several times to take a look at suspect packages. In one incident at a central Jerusalem bus stop, a radio-controlled robot was used to detonate a suspicious package -- which turned out to be nothing more harmful than orange juice.
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