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Israel Set  for Talks with Palestinians on West Bank Security - 2003-08-19


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with senior members of his government in preparation for Israeli-Palestinian talks later in the day on the transfer of security control to the Palestinians of more West Bank towns.

The security officials met with the prime minister to prepare a list of demands to present to the Palestinians as conditions for a withdrawal from the two West Bank towns of Qalqilya and Jericho. The pullout has been delayed because of differences over security issues.

The Palestinians complain that Israel's refusal to dismantle checkpoints outside of the towns means that the transfer would be cosmetic only.

Security Minister Mohammad Dahlan says Palestinians want a complete withdrawal from the towns, including the nearby checkpoints so that, as he put it, the Palestinians would feel the difference.

The Sharon government says it would not agree to a handover until the Palestinians commit to keeping those on Israel's wanted list under close surveillance by Palestinian security forces. In fact, Israel wants a personal guarantee from Mr. Dahlan that the suspects will not resume terror activities.

The two sides met for four hours Sunday in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve their differences.

Should an agreement be reached, the pullout could take place within the next few days.

A deal transfering security responsibility to the Palestinians in those two towns would then be followed by more complex negotiations regarding Israeli troop withdrawals from two more West Bank cities, Ramallah and Tulkarem.

One of the biggest issues to deal with is how to handle a number of Palestinians wanted by Israel who are holed up in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.