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Palestinian Airlines to Resume Flights - 2003-08-17

A top Palestinian official says Palestinian Airlines will resume flights from the Gaza Strip later this week, after being grounded by Israel for more than a year.

Palestinian Transport Minister Saedi al-Karunz says the airline will temporarily use a nearby Egyptian airport in the Sinai desert until the Palestinian Authority is able to operate Gaza International airport.

Israel grounded the airlines and tore up the airport runway last year, after a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants against Israeli targets.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli security officials were set to meet in Jerusalem to work out details of the return of control of four West Bank cities to the Palestinians over the next two weeks.

The two sides were to discuss an Israeli pullback from Qalqilyah and Jericho by Tuesday, and from Ramallah and Tulkarem by next week.

The plan, announced Friday by Israeli and Palestinian officials, would give the Palestinian Authority security control over the cities following the Israeli withdrawals. But Israel says the plan depends on an end to terror attacks and on Palestinian efforts to disarm militant groups.

Israel has also proposed the removal of a number of roadblocks surrounding Palestinian self-rule areas in the West Bank, allowing residents greater freedom of movement.

Palestinian militant groups have called the proposed withdrawals a farce. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say Israeli forces will still surround the towns, while Israel continues building a controversial security barrier in the West Bank.

Earlier Sunday Israel rejected Palestinian claims that the peace process allows Palestinian refugees the right of return to areas that are now part of Israel. Israeli officials say the peace process could suffer substantial setbacks if the Palestinians continue to insist on the refugees' right to re-settle inside Israel.