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Israel to Turn Over Control of Jericho

Israeli officials say the army will hand over security control of the West Bank city, Jericho, to the Palestinians, Wednesday.

News of the hand over follows the latest round of talks between Israeli Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Youssef, Monday night. Jericho is the first of five West Bank towns to be turned over to Palestinian security control.

Agreement, in principle, had been reached some time ago. However, a dispute over an Israeli roadblock outside the town had held up agreement. In the end, a compromise, of sorts, was reached. The Palestinians say the roadblock can stay for another month; but the Israelis say there is no commitment to dismantle it.

Agreement has also been reported to turn over Tulkarem, next, with Israel Radio saying the hand over will come Sunday. The next transfer will be Qalqilya, which is just south of Tulkarem. No timetable has yet been agreed upon for the hand over of Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Israeli lawmaker Shaul Yahalom, of the National Religious Party, has called on the government to stop all hand over negotiations. He says the Jericho hand over should be put on hold until the government gets firm assurances from Mr. Abbas that certain Palestinian prisoners in Jericho will not be released after the Palestinians take control of the city. In particular, Mr. Yahalom referred to Ahmed Saadat, whom Israel accuses of being behind the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

Israeli officials are quoted as saying they have received such assurances.

News of the hand over agreement comes as President Abbas heads to Cairo for talks with Palestinian militant groups. Mr. Abbas says he is confident the groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, will agree to a formal truce with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already said such an agreement will not be enough. He insists the militant groups must be disarmed and dismantled before there can be any talk of resuming peace negotiations.