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Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Israel to withdraw troops during Palestinian election

December 14, 2004

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— Israel's defense minister said Monday that Israeli troops would withdraw from Palestinian areas for 72 hours during next month's Palestinian presidential election, signaling that a deadly attack on an Israeli army outpost hasn't stopped fledgling peace efforts.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also presented a sweeping case for coordinating Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip next summer with the Palestinian leadership. He said broader withdrawals from Palestinian areas could be possible well ahead of the Gaza pullout and a successful arrangement could form the basis of an interim peace deal.

Mofaz's comments at an academic conference in the seaside town of Herzliya represented a marked departure from Israel's initial insistence that the Gaza pullout be carried out unilaterally.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to negotiate with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, accusing him of supporting violence. But since Arafat's death on Nov. 11, Israel has cautiously welcomed the moderate interim Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

While it didn't derail peace moves, Sunday's attack on an Israeli outpost in Gaza that killed five soldiers and wounded five others strained the new atmosphere of goodwill.

The bombing by the Islamic extremist group Hamas and gunmen with ties to the ruling Fatah movement was seen as a challenge to Abbas, who has been trying to persuade militants to halt attacks on Israelis ahead of the Jan. 9 election to replace Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli leaders said Monday that the new Palestinian leadership was not doing enough to restrain militants and warned that Israel's patience was wearing thin. "By now, we don't see any change," Sharon said.

Still, Israel's initial response to the outpost attack was relatively muted. Helicopters fired five missiles at suspected weapons workshops in Gaza City, causing no injuries.

Military leaders said Israel would continue to strike at militants until the Palestinian administration takes action. "We have no choice but to act ourselves," the military chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said at a briefing in Gaza.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, left, the Israeli chief of staff, visits the
army base on the Gaza-Egypt border, after Sunday's Palestinian
militants' attack. Five Israeli soldiers died.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, left, the Israeli chief of staff, visits the army base on the Gaza-Egypt border, after Sunday's Palestinian militants' attack. Five Israeli soldiers died.

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