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    Israel Removes West Bank Checkpoint Following Rice Visit

    Under U.S. pressure, Israel has begun easing travel restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank.  As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the move has aroused Israeli anxiety and Palestinian skepticism.

    Israel dismantled a major West Bank checkpoint at the request of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who visited here this week.  Rice had pressed Israel to ease travel restrictions to improve the lives of Palestinians and increase support for the peace process.

    So the Israeli army removed the checkpoint that connects the West Bank city of Ramallah with the town of Jericho.  Israel also plans to remove 50 dirt roadblocks.

    Both the army and the government are doing this reluctantly.  They fear that Palestinian militants will exploit the new freedom of movement to smuggle weapons and carry out suicide bombings in Israeli cities. 

    "As much as we recognize as a government the importance of movement and access issues, at the same time, no serious person can ignore the very real security threats that are out there," says Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

    With hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, Palestinians say the Israeli move is not enough.  And they are skeptical that Israel will carry out its promises to the United States.  Israeli Arab parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi.

    "The Israelis are the best group to talk about improvement, but on the ground there is deterioration," Tibi said. "There is no improvement in the situation at all, especially in the roadblocks."

    The Palestinian Authority has pledged to take steps to restore law and order in the West Bank and prevent terrorist attacks against Israel.  Based on past performance, Israeli officials have their doubts.  But they say Israel is willing to take risks for peace.  

     

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