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Israel Eases Curfews - 2002-07-03

Israel has decided to ease restrictions on seven Palestinian cities occupied by the Israeli army. The decision was made during a meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top security officials.

The plan calls for easing the curfew in stages, with defense officials to determine when and where the curfews will end.

The areas are under an around-the-clock curfew, which has been lifted for a few hours at a time to allow local residents to buy food.

About 700,000 Palestinians will remain under a nighttime curfew.

The Ha'aretz daily newspaper reported on its web site that the Israeli cabinet also decided to allow 2,000 Palestinians who have Israeli work permits to enter the country. It said 5,000 more work permits would be issued to Palestinians.

Israeli tanks and troops moved into the cities of Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Qalqilya, Jenin, and Hebron after a series of attacks killed 31 Israelis.

Mr. Sharon announced last month that Israel would reoccupy Palestinian areas until terror attacks stop. But Israeli media reported that the army would reduce its presence in order to ease the pressure on the Palestinian population and to let in humanitarian aid.

Palestinian officials estimate the already high jobless rate of 44 percent has soared to 78 percent since the curfews went into effect, keeping tens-of-thousands of Palestinians from going to their jobs in Israel.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat fired two top security officials. In the West Bank, Mr. Arafat removed Jibril Rajoub, the head of preventive security, who was regarded by some Israeli and American officials as among the most cooperative Palestinian leaders. In Gaza, Mr. Arafat dismissed the police chief, Ghazi Jibali.

Mr. Arafat is under pressure from the international community to reform the Palestinian security services.

Envoys from the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations met Tuesday in London to discuss U.S. proposals for Palestinian reforms and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. U.S. officials say the diplomats discussed creating a steering committee to coordinate Palestinian reform efforts.

British Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien met Tuesday with Mr. Arafat in Ramallah. Palestinian officials say EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also telephoned Mr. Arafat.

President Bush has called for a new Palestinian leadership and the United States has said it has no plans to talk with Mr. Arafat.