Israeli troops have lifted their blockade of the West Bank city of Jenin, ending a siege of nearly six months. Residents awoke Friday to the unusual sight of their streets empty of soldiers.

Israeli soldiers have withdrawn from the center of Jenin for the first time since the collapse of a unilateral cease-fire by Palestinian armed groups in August.

The troops have also removed roadblocks around the city, opening up routes between Jenin and surrounding villages.

The Israeli army says the end of the blockade follows an assessment that Palestinian militants in the city no longer pose the same danger to security.

Following the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, Jenin has been under almost continuous blockade, except for a month during the truce by Palestinian factions.

In response to attacks emanating from Jenin, Israel has placed a section of a controversial security barrier to the west and north of the city.

Palestinians condemn the project, claiming it is an attempt by Israel to seize more land.

Israel denies the charge, insisting the barrier is intended only to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers from crossing into the Jewish state.

The barrier is still under construction, and in other parts of the West Bank, Israeli soldiers remain on patrol in a bid to prevent more Palestinian attacks.

Early Friday, Israeli troops defused an explosive device they discovered on a road outside Tulkarem.

In Hebron, Israeli forces arrested 13 Palestinians suspected of throwing firebombs and stones at Israeli vehicles.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired two anti-tank missiles and a mortar shell at an Israeli base near the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.