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Israeli Troops Prepare to Pull Out of Palestinian Self-Rule Areas - 2003-07-26


Israel is preparing to withdraw its troops from two more Palestinian self-rule areas of the West Bank. The move is part of negotiations to promote the international Road Map to peace in the Middle East.

Israel is poised to pull its troops back soon from two additional West Bank cities and allow the Palestinian security forces to resume responsibility for law and order.

The announcement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came shortly after his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, held talks at the White House with President Bush.

Mr. Sharon said his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, will meet early next week with Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan to discuss which cities will be selected and the date of the transfer.

Israel television reported that the two cities are likely to be Jericho and Qalqilyah.

The report said the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Israel has confined Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to his headquarters, is likely to remain under siege.

Israel has also announced a series of humanitarian measures toward the Palestinians. These measures are to be implemented before and after Mr. Sharon's visit to the White House on Tuesday.

The steps include the removal of three key West Bank military checkpoints, the reopening of West Bank roads to traffic and the transfer of more tax revenue by Israel to the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, Israel has agreed to issue 8,500 more permits to allow Palestinians to enter the Jewish State to work.

There will also be a further relaxation of the tough restrictions on the import of Palestinian produce into Israel.

In a separate development, Israel continued intensive searches Saturday for a soldier who has been missing for nearly a week. About 500 policeman and volunteers combed an area between Nazareth and the upper Galilee area of northern Israel.

Police say they suspect the soldier may have been kidnapped or murdered by Palestinian militants.

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