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Israelis, Palestinians Meet to Coordinate Gaza Pullout


Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Tel-Aviv Wednesday evening to coordinate the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - planned for August. The senior Israeli at the meeting, Major General Yitzhak Har'el, said afterward that he also pressed Israeli demands that the Palestinians take action against what he described as the rising terrorism in Gaza.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel acknowledged that it had resumed its policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz confirmed the tactic, saying Israel reserves the right to attack militants at any time, in any place. He said Israel's failed missile strike in Gaza on Tuesday marked the resumption of the controversial policy. That attack occurred during an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians expressed their disappointment with the meeting, which they said did nothing to answer their demands for a relaxation of Israel's control of the West Bank to make the life of average Palestinians better.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom repeated the Israeli position again on Wednesday, when he told journalists the Palestinians are failing to take the necessary steps to fight terror. "They are not doing, in our view, what needs to be one, in order to put an end to terrorism and violence," he said.

The foreign minister said that if Palestinian officials do not act, then Israel would be forced to take further drastic measures. And, he warned that Palestinian militants are more of a threat to Abu Mazen, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is called, than to Israel.

"If we have to go back to Gaza, we'll do it, and [but] we don't want to do it. Hamas and Islamic Jihad can carry out attacks against Israel but it will never undermine our existence," added Mr. Shalom. "They can undermine Abu Mazen's existence, personally, physically and, of course, his regime."

Israel halted the assassinations of militant leaders in February, as part of a truce deal. However, Israeli officials now say the policy has been reactivated to counter recent Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets in and near Gaza.

A spokesman from the prime minister's office said the resumption of the policy does not violate the truce deal.

The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, condemned the Israeli decision. In his words, "This is exactly the wrong road for the Israelis to take." He said it could lead to the collapse of attempts to revive the peace process.

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