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Israeli Troops Pull Out of Palestinian Areas of Hebron - 2001-10-15

Israeli soldiers have pulled out of Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank city of Hebron, as part of an effort to strengthen a cease-fire. The truce continues to be tested; in the latest incident a member of the militant Palestinian group Hamas was killed in an explosion in the West Bank.

Israeli troops and tanks pulled out of two Palestinian areas in the volatile city of Hebron.

Israeli soldiers had reoccupied the hilltop neighborhoods earlier this month, after Palestinian gunmen fired into a crowd of Jewish worshippers.

Palestinian security forces have pledged to end the firing on Jewish settlements in the city.

Palestinian police have moved into the neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints, patrolling in jeeps and taking over positions once occupied by gunmen.

Hebron has been a frequent flashpoint for violence. About 400 heavily guarded Jewish settlers live in the center of the city, surrounded by about 120,000 Palestinians.

The withdrawal came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government moved to ease military closures in the Palestinian territories, as part of a cease-fire agreement designed to end more than a year of fighting.

But violence continued when a car exploded in the West Bank city of Nablus, killing a member of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Palestinians blamed the killing of Ahmed Marshoud on Israel.

Israel's policy of targeting militants, called assassinations by the Palestinians, has been widely criticized by the United States and other countries.

Prime Minister Sharon, citing Israel's right to defend itself, said a similar targeted attack Sunday "was not the first, nor the last."

U.S. officials have been urging both sides to bring calm to the region, as America recruits Arab and Islamic countries into an international coalition to fight terror after last month's attacks on New York and Washington.