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Israel Eases West Bank Curfew - 2002-07-03

Israel has decided to gradually end daylight curfews in seven Palestinians cities that have been reoccupied by the Israeli army. The decision to ease restrictions was made by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet.

Israeli officials said they will lift the curfew in stages and will decide on easing restrictions in the seven cities on a case by case basis. As part of the new policy, the curfew was lifted for longer than usual in four of the seven cities on Wednesday.

A nighttime curfew is to remain in effect.

An estimated 700,000 Palestinians have been living under an around the clock curfew since Israeli tanks reoccupied all but one of the major cities in the West Bank.

The curfew was lifted only for a few hours at a time to allow local residents to buy food, and in some cases, for students to complete final exams.

The cabinet has also decided to allow several thousand Palestinians who already have Israeli work permits to again enter the country to go to their jobs.

The Israeli incursion into Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Qalqilya, Jenin, and Hebron followed a series of attacks that killed 31 Israelis.

Mr. Sharon announced last month that Israel would reoccupy Palestinian areas until terror attacks stop.

Meanwhile, news agencies reported that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat fired two top security chiefs in what is seen as a step toward reforming his security services.

Reports said he dismissed West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub and Gaza Strip Police Chief Ghazi Jibali. But the Reuters news agency said Mr. Rajoub told them he had not lost his job and suggested reports of his dismissal are part of an effort to damage the Palestinian security services.

Mr. Arafat has been under pressure to restructure the Palestinian Authority.

President Bush has sparked Palestinian anger by saying the Palestinians need new leadership.

Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City marched in support of Mr. Arafat while denouncing Mr. Bush's call for his replacement.