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Israel Lifts Military Blockades Against Most West Bank Cities - 2003-11-05

Israel has lifted military blockades against most West Bank cities in a bid to ease the humanitarian plight of Palestinians. Israeli officials said the decision is also a goodwill gesture toward Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who is trying to form a new government.

Israel announced it had ended internal closures on all Palestinian cities in the West Bank with the exception of Nablus and Jenin.

The Israeli Army said these two cities should continue to be sealed off due to the large number of warnings that Palestinians are planning to use them to launch terror attacks.

Palestinians in all other cities will now be allowed to travel outside their areas, providing they have a permit.

The restrictions are being eased two months after Israeli forces encircled Palestinian self-rule areas in response to suicide bombings.

Israeli officials said the decision is aimed in part at boosting support for Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, who is attempting to build a new government and has stated his willingness to re-start peace talks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom says that more goodwill gestures are needed to restore trust between the two sides and set the climate for a return to negotiations. "Israel is trying to do everything that is needed to bring the peace process back on track. I think that it is very important that Abu Ala [Mr. Qureia] will form his new Cabinet," he said.

Mr. Shalom also urged the Palestinian Authority to dismantle, what he called, the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying this would speed up progress toward ending the conflict.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who met Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad earlier this week, says there are signs of a new Palestinian leadership emerging.

Mr. Mofaz says a process has begun that will eventually result in Palestinian President Yasser Arafat vacating his post, but gave no indication of who he thought might eventually replace the veteran Palestinian leader.