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Security Hand-Over Delayed in West Bank - 2003-08-18

The hand-over of security responsibility from Israel to the Palestinian Authority for two West Bank towns, scheduled to take place today, has been delayed after negotiations between the two sides failed to resolve differences over security concerns.

Palestinians were to resume control of Jericho and Qalqilya today, but the transfer has been delayed after Israeli and Palestinians negotiators failed to agree on several key issues. Negotiators broke up their meeting after nearly four hours of unsuccessful talks Sunday night.

Israel is believed to be pressing Palestinian Security Minister Mohammad Dahlan to make a personal commitment to stop wanted Palestinian militants from returning to terrorist activities.

Palestinians are complaining that Israel has not agreed to remove the roadblocks it has set up outside the towns after the hand-over. They say failing to do so means the towns remain, effectively, under Israeli control, because Israel still would decide who enters and leaves. They say such a hand-over would only be cosmetic.

Palestinians also say that Israel does not want real progress toward peace and that the agreement over the hand-over of cities, under these conditions, is nothing more than an Israeli trick meant to hurt the process.

Mr. Dahlan and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had agreed earlier that four cities would revert to Palestinian control. Jericho and Qalqilya would be handed over on Monday, then Ramallah and Tulkarem, within 10 days -- provided that the Palestinians present a plan, acceptable to Israel, for preventing terror attacks and supervising wanted militants.

The transfer of Ramallah and Tulkarem would be postponed, if terror attacks were carried out or if the Palestinians did not uphold their security obligations.

The two sides are expected to meet again on Tuesday, to try to resolve their differences.