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Israel Withdraws from Parts of Gaza Strip - 2003-06-30


Israeli troops have withdrawn from parts of the northern Gaza Strip. The overnight pullout came just hours after the three main Palestinian militant groups declared a three-month ceasefire.

Israeli tanks and troops began withdrawing Sunday night, under the terms of a protocol worked out earlier in the day between the Israeli military and Palestinian security forces.

The Israeli troops withdrew from the northern Gaza town, Beit Hanun, but left a small contingent on some of the hilltops overlooking the town, awaiting the arrival of Palestinian security forces, who are due later today.

An army statement says the pullout was completed Sunday night. It also says the army is committed to ensuring the success of the move and will carefully monitor the activities of the Palestinian security forces.

Israeli troops are to remain deployed around Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

So far, there has been no agreement on a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank town, Bethlehem, but Israeli media are quoting Palestinian sources as saying an agreement is near.

The reports say Palestinian police could be back on the streets of the West Bank town within 48 hours. The arrangement would also include joint Israeli-Palestinian security patrols.

The security transfer is part of a series of reciprocal steps called for in the internationally-drafted "road map" to peace that is aimed at leading to an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Another step is the end of Palestinian violence against Israelis.

Sunday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued a joint statement saying they agreed not to attack Israelis for three months, but only if Israel meets a number of conditions, including the end of incursions, closures and aggression against militants.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement issued a statement, later, saying it conditionally agrees to a six-month cease-fire.

The developments came after two days of intense diplomatic efforts in the region by President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.