Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Israeli troops cede control in Bethlehem

August 20, 2002

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— Israel withdrew its soldiers from Bethlehem early today, part of the first Israeli-Palestinian security agreement in a year that tests the waters for more handovers.

The United States welcomed the deal, which also calls for Israel to withdraw from parts of Gaza and for the Palestinians to take over security duties in the newly vacated areas. The State Department said it could lead to further peacemaking steps.

While tension dropped in some places, violence continued in others. Israeli forces blew up a building they said was a bomb factory in the old city of Nablus, and soldiers shot and killed a 14-year-old boy in a village near Jenin.

The Bethlehem withdrawal began late Monday, and residents said the last Israeli troops had departed by early this morning. Palestinian police began patrolling the town.

"The redeployment is aimed to enable the Palestinians to act against terrorism and restore daily life," an Israeli military statement said, confirming that Israeli troops had withdrawn.

The new agreement reached Sunday night by Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and his Palestinian counterpart, Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh was the first since June 2001, when CIA Director George Tenet hammered out a cease-fire that was never enacted.

The CIA talked to both sides as they worked out the latest agreement, a U.S. official and sources close to the Palestinians said.

Tenet met earlier this month at his headquarters with Yehiyeh. The CIA subsequently was in touch with Israeli and Palestinian officials, and played a role in working out the agreement, the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Yehiyeh told The Associated Press that redeployment in Gaza would be enacted in stages.

"From our side, we will take all the necessary procedures to achieve internal security and public security in those areas," Yehiyeh said.

In Gaza, Palestinian police checked papers of drivers Monday on a main northern road. Police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, linked the checks to the new agreement, saying they would enact all aspects of it.

Israel has said that if the Palestinians act to prevent attacks from Bethlehem and the areas handed over in Gaza, it may hand over more of the West Bank towns it has controlled since June.

An international task force will meet Thursday and Friday in Paris to consider ways to reform the Palestinian Authority, which President Bush in June accused of corruption and involvement in terror attacks on Israel.

American, Russian, European Union, United Nations, Norwegian and Japanese officials will attend, as well as officials from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

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