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Israel Allows Some Palestinian Militants to Return to West Bank


Israel is allowing some of the Palestinian militants it has expelled from the West Bank to begin returning home and the military has called off the practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinian suicide bombers and other militants suspected of involvement in attacks against Israelis. The decisions are part of a series of moves designed to edge both sides back to peace negotiations.

Sixteen of the more than 50 militants expelled by Israel from the West Bank are being allowed back home on Friday.

Israeli officials also said that at least some of the 39 Palestinian militants expelled to Europe in 2002 following the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem would be allowed to return in the coming weeks.

The Israeli military also announced it would halt its practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinian suicide bombers and other suspected militants. A defense ministry statement said the Minister had accepted the recommendations of a military panel which found the policy ineffective and counter productive.

According to the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, the military has demolished 675 homes and displaced over 4,000 people since the outbreak of violence in September of 2000.

B'Tselem and other human rights groups have long condemned the practice as collective punishment that is in violation of international humanitarian law.

Israel has defended the demolitions, saying they were necessary to deter further terrorist attacks.

All these measures are in line with conciliatory steps agreed upon between Israeli and Palestinian officials and are part of a rapprochement signaled by the summit earlier this month between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

At the same time, the Israeli government says it is moving ahead with plans to withdraw Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and small portions of the northern West Bank.

The cabinet is expected to give its final overall approval on Sunday, following passage by parliament this week of a compensation plan for Israeli settlers who will be evacuated. Opponents of the plan say they will continue their efforts to prevent the withdrawal by staging protest rallies and demonstrations.

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