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Israeli, Palestinian Security Chiefs Meet to Coordinate Withdrawal in West Bank - 2001-10-26

Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs have met to coordinate a gradual Israeli military withdrawal from areas in the West Bank.

The security officials met to discuss what is expected to be a phased Israeli pullback from six Palestinian-ruled areas reoccupied after last week's assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military raids since the assassination. Israeli officials say the withdrawal will occur when the Palestinian Authority meets security commitments to restore calm to the areas. No specific timetable for the pullback was given, although Israeli officials say Bethlehem and the adjacent town of Beit Jala are likely to be included in the first stage.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said both sides need to start talking and stop shooting. "We are trying to see again if we can have some openings to return to the negotiations for a ceasefire that eventually will lead to the negotiations for a permanent settlement in the Middle East," Mr. Peres said.

Israel has been under intense pressure to end the incursions.

Diplomats from the United States, the European Union, and Russia have been meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in an effort to bring calm to the region. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who met with Mr. Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have changed the world.

"We are working very hard to come to an end of terror and violence, to open the door back to negotiations based on the end of terror and violence," he said. "I think this is very important and what we can contribute we will contribute. But once again, I think it is very important to understand the world has changed since September 11 for all of us," he said.

The United States has been trying to bring an end to the violence in the Middle East as part of its effort to recruit Arab and Islamic nations into its international anti-terror coalition.

Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts, violence continued Friday as Israeli soldiers shot and killed three armed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who were trying to infiltrate a Jewish settlement. The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attempted attack.

Also in Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot and killed an Israeli Bedouin Arab as he drove a tractor though a security fence.