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Israeli Troops Leave Beit Jala, Bethlehem - 2001-10-28

Israeli troops have pulled out of two Palestinian-ruled West Bank towns. The withdrawal was undertaken despite two Palestinian shooting attacks on Sunday that killed five Israelis and wounded more than 42 others.

Israeli soldiers pulled back Sunday from Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala, in the West Bank. The withdrawal was meant to have taken place a day earlier, but was delayed after Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave the green light for the pullback after discussions with members of his security cabinet. He gave the approval despite the killing of four Israeli women in the town of Hadera. Two Palestinian gunmen who carried out the attack were shot and killed by Israeli police.

Both men were from Jenin, in the northern West Bank and Israeli troops began massing on the outskirts of the town in retaliation for the attack. The operation began after the Israeli Cabinet authorized the army to respond to the shooting.

In a separate incident, also on Sunday, an Israeli soldier was shot dead at a bus stop near the West Bank, by Palestinian gunmen, who fled the scene.

A White House spokesman expressed his sorrow over the Palestinian attacks,but repeated the U.S. Government's call for Israeli troops to withdraw from Palestinian ruled-areas.

Israel encircled six Palestinian towns in the West Bank following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi earlier this month.

The pullback from Bethlehem and Beit Jala is meant to be a test case for a phased withdrawal from all the Palestinian-ruled towns.