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Israel to Withdraw From 2 More West Bank Cities - 2003-07-30

Israel is preparing to return security control to the Palestinian Authority in two more cities in the West Bank.

Israel is expected to soon redeploy its troops to the outskirts of the towns of Qalqilyah and Jericho.

Under the plan, the Palestinian security forces would be allowed to resume responsibility for law and order in the center of the towns.

Israel entered these and other cities across the West Bank last year, following a series of suicide bombings, but pledged to withdraw once Palestinian groups halted their terror attacks.

The planned troop withdrawals are part of a series of goodwill moves by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which analysts say are in large part designed to boost support for his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Sharon met Tuesday with President Bush at the White House.

Israeli officials and commentators say Mr. Sharon was successful in his efforts to convince Mr. Bush that the Palestinian Authority should be doing more to dismantle Palestinian groups that have been involved in terror.

In another development, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are also discussing relocating some wanted Palestinian fugitives to Jericho.

Under the proposal, Israel would pledge not to hunt down and arrest the wanted Palestinians, providing they did not leave the West Bank enclave.

Dozens of wanted Palestinians have already moved to Jericho in expectation that agreement will soon be reached on the issue.

The Palestinian Authority has also given its commitment not to arrest the suspects in Jericho on condition that they remain committed to the current cease-fire.

The Palestinian Authority recently reached an understanding with militant groups that they would not carry out any attacks for at least three months.