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Israel To Ease Sanctions, Reopen Roads


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won cabinet backing for a plan to ease sanctions against the Palestinians and withdraw troops from some key flashpoints of violence. No timetable has been set for the plan, which was adopted on the same day that Israeli snipers killed a Palestinian militant suspected of involvement in two suicide bombings.

Mr. Sharon said an understanding had been reached with the Palestinian Authority for Israeli troops to withdraw from two Arab neighborhoods in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. Palestinian snipers have used the areas to shoot at Jewish enclaves in the city, but Palestinian security forces have pledged that they will do their utmost to halt such attacks once the Israeli soldiers have withdrawn.

In addition, Israel plans to lift its closure of the West Bank area of Jericho, open border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and between the West Bank and Jordan.

Roads around Ramallah, a major Palestinian city in the West Bank, are to be re-opened. Permits are also expected to be issued allowing families and businessmen to travel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The steps, taken in response to the relative drop in violence in the past two weeks, will make it easier for Palestinians to move around the territories.

The decision was taken after a fiery debate in the Israeli Cabinet. Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, among others, attacked Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for maintaining contacts with the Palestinians and pushing for an easing of restrictions while the unrest continues.

At the same time, Israel showed that it was taking a tough line against Palestinian militants it suspects of plotting attacks against Jews. An elite Israeli sniper unit shot dead Abdel Rahman Hamad, a member of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. He was killed while standing on the roof of his home in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

Israeli officials say Mr. Hamad was suspected of involvement in two suicide bombings that killed a total of 24 people. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo condemned the shooting as a revival of what he calls Israel's "assassination" policy.