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Talks on Israeli army pullback to resume on Tuesday
( 2003-08-19 10:31) (Agencies)

Israel and the Palestinians plan to resume high level security talks on Tuesday aimed at breaking a deadlock over a deal for Israel's handover of four West Bank cities to Palestinian security control.

A Palestinian youth uses iron sticks to climb up the concrete wall, part of the controversial security fence which separates the West Bank from Israel, at the West Bank city of Qalqilya August 17, 2003. [Reuters]
Israel had been poised to transfer the West Bank cities of Qalqiliya and Jericho to Palestinian security control as early as Monday, but the handover was temporarily shelved after a dispute arose in talks between senior security officials.

"Tomorrow (Tuesday) there will be talks between Israeli and Palestinian military officers," an Israeli Defense Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said the delays resulted from Israel's refusal to dismantle checkpoints surrounding Palestinian cities after withdrawing.

"We want a full withdrawal without checkpoints, without blockades so that the Palestinians would feel the difference. We don't want a cosmetic withdrawal. We want a genuine one," he told reporters on Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israeli officials gave a different account, saying the deadlock in talks arose over the fate of militants on Israel's wanted list who Israel wants kept under close surveillance by Palestinian security forces.

"Before fulfilling our commitment to withdraw, there has to be a clear commitment from Palestinians that they take responsibility in these areas (so) there will not be attacks on Israeli citizens coming out of them," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters on Monday.

Israeli soldiers build a military position overlooking Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank city of Hebron, August 17, 2003.  [Reuters]
Officials on Sunday said Israel was willing to withdraw from Jericho and Qalqiliya in the next few days, and Tulkarm and Ramallah by the end of the month.


Israel, seconded by Washington, has called repeatedly on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle militant groups as mandated by the road map peace plan and ruled out significant pullbacks from occupied land until then.

Abbas, citing concerns that a crackdown against militants could spark a civil war, instead coaxed a unilateral truce from militant groups on June 29 to shore up the peace plan.

But the cease-fire could be in peril following a vow by the Islamic Jihad group to avenge Israel's killing on Thursday of its cell commander in Hebron--a move Israel said pre-empted a major suicide bombing.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, continued to hunt down wanted militants on Monday, arresting two Palestinian gunmen near the West Bank city of Hebron.

The army said Israeli troops shot and injured one of the gunmen attempting to flee troops. He was arrested and taken to Israel for medical treatment, the army spokesman said.

Palestinian officials told Reuters Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had relented on the demand militants be rounded up as part of the handover deal he reached on Friday with Dahlan.

Mofaz denied he had softened his position, but a senior Israeli official said Israel and the Palestinians hoped to finalize arrangements on "supervising wanted men" rather than putting them in prison.

"If they are not behind bars, we will want at least to know where they are," the official said.

The Palestinian officials said they believed Israel would settle for militants being "contained" as long as they ceased attacks.

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