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Israelis and Palestinians Agree on Tulkarem Security Hand-Over

Palestinian police officer Said Abu Pasha (r) and Israeli commander of Tulkarem area Col. Tamir Hayman speak to the press
Israel radio says Israeli and Palestinian officials have reached a compromise that will permit the hand-over of security control of Tulkarem and two nearby West Bank villages to Palestinian control. The transfer is to be completed Tuesday.

The transfer had been held up when the two sides could not agree on the future of several villages north of Tulkarem. The Palestinians wanted to assume control of those villages, but Israel rejected the request, saying the return of Palestinian control to those areas should be more gradual.

A particular concern for the Israelis was that the villages are the base for the Islamic Jihad militants who carried out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed five Israelis in late February.

The agreement reached Monday calls for the two villages to remain under Israeli control for the time being.

The Palestinians assumed security control of Jericho last week, after several days delay. After Tulkarem is handed over, Qalqilyah is to be next.

The transfer of security control is one of the steps agreed upon at a summit in Egypt, last month. Another is the pledge to release Palestinian prisoners. Five hundred have already been freed, but the Palestinians want all 8,000 now in Israeli jails to be let go.

In other developments, Israeli officials say Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has approved the construction of 3,500 housing units in Maale Adumim, the West Bank's largest settlement. Palestinians have condemned the move, saying it violates the internationally backed peace plan, known as the "road map," and that it threatens the chances for peace.

Under the road map, Israel must freeze settlement activity in the West Bank. It also requires the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups, which the Palestinian Authority has not done.