Palestinian security replaces Israeli patrols in Bethlehem

Special to World
Wednesday, July 2, 2003

JERUSALEM The Palestinian Authority has redeployed its security forces in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Palestinian police and security forces have established positions and launched patrols around Bethlehem. A formal handover of the city is scheduled for later on Wednesday.

Israel's military has pledged not to enter Bethlehem to arrest suspected Palestinian insurgents. The military had pulled out of the city in 2002, but until Tuesday conducted daily patrols and searched for insurgents.

PA officials said they expect Israel to hand over other West Bank cities and release prisoners over the next two weeks. They said the cities would include Hebron, Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah where Israel maintains a military presence.

"We have said that the release of prisoners is an important element in the peace between the two people," PA Prisoner Affairs Minister Hisham Abdul Razik said.

PA officials said Israel refused a request to allow Palestinian security forces in Bethlehem free movement to Hebron in the south. The officials said the PA is pressing Israel to make Hebron the next city for the evacuation of the military.

Israel has linked continuing military withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to a PA effort to collect unauthorized weapons and dismantle Palestinian insurgency groups. Israel Security Agency director Avi Dichter told a strategic seminar at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday that the test of PA intentions will take place in mid-July when the PA is expected to collect weapons.

Palestinian insurgency operations continued on Wednesday. Israel's military reported Palestinian fire toward foreign laborers employed by Israel near the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm. A security guard was injured. Palestinian insurgents also detonated a bomb near Israeli-employed laborers near the city of Kalkilya. Nobody was injured.

PA officials said Israel has also agreed to lift the siege from the headquarters of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The officials said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has agreed to allow Arafat to commute between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At this point, officials said, Sharon would not allow Arafat to leave for abroad.

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