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Israeli Troops Leave Evacuated West Bank Settlements


Palestinians have rushed into small northern West Bank settlements after Israeli troops pulled out. Israel has now completed its withdrawal from Gaza and from small portions of the northern West Bank, but the big question now is what happens next?

Jubilant Palestinians rushed into Ganim and Kadim, hours after the last Israeli soldiers left the two settlements. These were the last of four enclaves evacuated by the Israelis in the northern West Bank, completing a disengagement that began last month in Gaza.

But, unlike in Gaza, where full control of the area was handed to the Palestinians after the withdrawal, the situation in the northern West Bank is different. Palestinians will have control over the abandoned settlements, but Israeli troops still patrol the area, since the West Bank remains under overall Israeli control.

Israel's disengagement sparked widespread hope for a return to full negotiations via the internationally-backed Roadmap Peace Plan. Both Israel and the Palestinians have welcomed a return to the plan, but each is blaming the other for not making the right moves to do so.

Israel says the Palestinian Authority must dismantle the terrorist groups, meaning militant factions such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Speaking on Israel radio from New York, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was very blunt about how Hamas must be curbed.

He said Israel would not allow Hamas to participate in the Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for January.

Palestinian officials reject such Israeli interference in internal Palestinian affairs. They say Israel should instead end its occupation of the West Bank and dismantle its remaining settlements there.

The Palestinian leadership would like to see that happen through negotiations. But, Palestinian militants have claimed credit for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. A Hamas leader in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef says the group will fight on.

Speaking on Palestinian radio, Mr. Youssef said the militants will not allow anyone to disarm them. He insists they will fight to drive Israel out of the West Bank and he is adamant, Hamas will participate in the January elections.

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