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Killing of Palestinian Child Clouds Cease-Fire Prospects With Israel

Israeli and Palestinian officials are striving to reduce tension and get cooperation back on track after violence in the Gaza Strip threatened an informal cease-fire. The violence could also hamper plans for an imminent Israeli withdrawal from several West Bank cities.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met late Monday with Palestinian representative Mohammed Dahlan to finalize arrangements for the hand-over of five West Bank cities. But, Mr. Mofaz also indicated the process could be jeopardized if Palestinian militants persist in their attacks.

In an atmosphere of increasing cooperation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel agreed to hand-over control of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, Tulkarem and Qalqilya to the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah is first on the list and the Israeli withdrawal from there could begin within days.

Some Palestinian officials expressed dismay that Israel would not pull out of all five cities at once.

But Israeli cabinet minister Danny Naveh said told Israeli radio the message to the Palestinians is very clear.

He said there is no way that Israel will make concessions as long as terrorist attacks continue. He added that as long as Israeli citizens come under fire, there can be no atmosphere for furthering political contacts and moving toward a new era.

An informal cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants was threatened Monday by renewed violence in Gaza.

Ten-year-old Norhan Deeb was shot dead in the courtyard of her school in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. Palestinian witnesses blamed Israeli troops stationed nearby, but a military spokeswoman said Israeli forces were not involved. Nonetheless, the incident prompted Palestinian militants to fire mortar rounds into Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Despite the rise in tensions, Israel re-opened the Rafah crossing, the main transit point between Gaza and neighboring Egypt. The crossing was closed last December after Palestinian militants killed five Israeli soldiers at an army outpost nearby.

Israel says that it will not re-open the Karni cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel until the Palestinians provide a detailed plan for security there and they conduct a proper investigation into a militant attack at Karni two-weeks ago that killed six Israelis.