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Israel hands over Jericho
by UKG
Wednesday Mar 16th, 2005 9:45 AM
Israeli troops handed Jericho over to Palestinian security control today amid signs that an informal truce is starting to pay off.

The Israeli flag was lowered from the West Bank town and roadblocks were dismantled.
The hand over forms part of a ceasefire package agreed last month by the recently elected Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The initial implementation of the deal was delayed by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on February 25, which left five Israelis dead.

Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met repeatedly throughout today to co-ordinate the hand over. There were chaotic scenes this afternoon as officials struggled to reach a decision about whether the change-over should be marked by a handshake or a signature.

The Palestinians insisted on a signature prompting the Israelis to demand time to show the document to a legal adviser. More than an hour later, officers from both sides returned for the signing ceremony at a liaison office on the outskirts of the town.

As part of the pullback in Jericho, Israeli troops removed one roadblock, while two other barriers are to remain in place for a month, to test the effectiveness of the Palestinian security forces' policing. The Palestinians had insisted all checkpoints were removed, but accepted the compromise.

Jericho is the first of five West Bank towns to be handed back to the Palestinians in an attempt to stem the violence that has persisted since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000. Israel erected dozens of barriers across the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen from reaching Israeli targets. Despite the blockade, hundreds of Israelis have been killed in attacks by militants in the past five years. The others towns included in the pullout deal include Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya.

Today Palestinians were sceptical, but hopeful. Issa Saasine, a plastics trader visiting Jericho from Hebron, said: "A prisoner living in a cell will always be very glad when the guards open a window.

"Any small improvement is welcome, but more is needed to bring about confidence and stability."

Jericho, a farming and resort town in the Jordan valley, has largely stayed out of the fighting, and Israeli troops rarely entered the region in search of fugitives.

"The point is we are trying to get things back ... gradually, hoping that through peace and negotiations things will change," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

As part of the hand over, Israel is easing checks at the main roadblock at the southern entrance to Jericho, allowing some traffic through the area without inspection. In the past, long queues often formed in both directions. The move is likely to help the local economy, which depends on tourism.,3604,1439241,00.html
by Haaretz
Wednesday Mar 16th, 2005 10:16 AM
Israeli and Palestinian security commanders signed an agreement Wednesday afternoon on the handover of the West Bank city of Jericho to the Palestinian Authority, formalizing the Israel Defense Forces pullback that took place earlier in the day.

A short time before the deal was signed, and after the IDF had already officially announced that it had transferred the city to Palestinian security control, a last-minute hitch put the long-delayed handover at risk.

Officers from both sides had arrived at a liaison office Wednesday afternoon to sign the handover protocol. The IDF brigade commander asked to sign the agreement said he would first have to consult with his commanders, and the Palestinians said they refused to accept control of Jericho until the protocol was signed.

IDF sources said the disagreement related to "technical" issues. The sources said the transfer of Jericho involves almost no concrete steps in the field because the IDF only enters the city when necessary.

The dispute was resolved and security commanders signed the agreement after making a few changes to the document.

Earlier Wednesday, the IDF moved one of its checkpoints around the West Bank city further north, giving Palestinians access to the city of Ramallah. The military changed regulations concerning its southern checkpoint as well, so that troops will from now on only inspect Palestinian cars leaving the city, and not those entering.

The main north-south highway running though the Jordan Valley, which will remain under Israeli control, will be opened to Palestinian vehicular traffic, Army Radio reported.

"From this moment we are resuming our control over the Jericho area," Palestinian security official General Ahmed Eid said seconds after shaking hands with his Israeli counterpart in a short ceremony on Jericho's outskirts.

Palestinians flashed V-for-victory signs and sat down to festive picnics in Jericho as cranes loaded concrete blocks onto Israeli trucks at the city's main entrance and the two sides' officers met to wrap up the details.

Israeli and Palestinian commanders toured the West Bank city Wednesday morning, as part of the run-up to the formal transfer of control.

Also Wednesday, IDF troops arrested the Hamas leader in Tul Karm. Israeli security sources said he was wanted for questioning.

Egypt presses Israel, PA to abide by promises
Meanwhile, Egypt pressed Israel and the Palestinians to abide by their promises in the fragile peace process Wednesday as Palestinian leaders tried for a second day at a Cairo summit to persuade militant factions to declare a one-year cease-fire.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Wednesday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who faces a tough sell on the cease-fire.

In their talks, Mubarak and Abbas emphasized the "necessity to step up implementation of the commitments and the understandings between the two parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians" made at last month's Sharm el-Sheikh summit, a presidential spokesman said.

"Some of these commitments have been implemented, while others are waiting to be put into action," the spokesman said. "All these understandings should be implemented."

Hamas, meanwhile, says it is willing only to extend an informal period of "calm" in attacks - and that only on condition Israel halts military operations against Palestinians and frees Palestinian prisoners.

In an interview with the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat published Wednesday, Abbas said he hoped Hamas and Jihad would become purely "political organizations," participating in the Palestinian government, headed by Abbas, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Asked if that would mean the two groups would give up their weapons, Abbas said, "The decision of armed resistance should be taken by the Authority, so there is no need for there to be weapons here and there [with groups] that make the decision on their own."